12:00 AM 06/29/2010
As the House Agriculture Committee prepares to vote Wednesday on a bill
that would lift the travel ban on Cuba bolster the Castro regime with
American tourism dollars, I remember the words of Alexander
Solzhenitsyn, who wrote about the horrors of living in a Soviet gulag.
Solzhenitsyn noted, "We are slaves there from birth, but we are striving
for freedom. You, however, were born free. If so, then why do you help
our slave owners?"
According to a 2008 State Department report, Castro's regime was holding
at least 205 political prisoners at the end of that year, and as many as
5,000 citizens served sentences without ever being charged with a
specific crime. Just a few months ago, political prisoner Orlando Zapata
Tamayo died after an 86-day hunger strike. And today, American citizen
Alan Gross is being held prisoner without charges for his efforts to
help the Cuban people use the Internet.
Unfortunately, the bill before the Agriculture Committee, on which I
serve, would lift the travel ban on Cuba without any human rights
concessions. The bill would open up relations with a regime that
routinely imprisons journalists and citizens who disagree with their
government. This would send mixed messages about our commitment to the
brave pro-democracy movement in Cuba.
Lifting the travel ban would inject millions of dollars into the Cuban
government at a time when the Castro regime is on the ropes. Cuba's
foreign trade declined by a third in the last year, the country is
several billion dollars in debt to sovereign lenders, and its economic
crisis is putting Castro's rule in jeopardy.
Why would we lift the travel ban and let American tourism dollars prop
up the Castro regime? At this juncture, lifting the ban would amount to
yet another bailout – only this time, we'd be bailing out a brutal
dictatorship on the brink of collapsing.
Every dollar spent by American tourists in Cuba would contribute to the
regime's bottom line, providing resources for Castro's army, his secret
police and his political prisons. The State Department lists Cuba as a
state sponsor of terrorism and reports that the regime not only has
close ties with Iran and North Korea, it also provides safe haven for
terrorists from around the world. Opening Cuba to travel would
jeopardize national security by allowing American tourism dollars to
finance state-sponsored terror and help provide refuge to terrorists.
The bill's supporters argue that allowing American tourists into Cuba
would weaken the regime. They fail to note that European, Canadian and
Latin American visitors have been visiting the island regularly since
the 1990s, and that has done nothing to undermine Castro or improve the
lives of Cuban people.
To the contrary, Castro has used his control over the tourism industry
to create a national system of apartheid and segregation. Cuban citizens
cannot enter the hotels, resorts, beaches, restaurants and stores where
foreign tourists visit. Tourists have very limited interactions with the
Cuban people. The State department warns that any interaction with a
Cuban could be monitored by the secret police and can subject that Cuban
to harassment, detention or other repressive actions. The Castro-run
tourism industry also openly promotes child prostitution, a horrible
abuse heaped on Cuba's children.
No wonder that the influx of European and Canadian tourists has not
brought greater freedom to Cuba – the tourism industry has become a tool
for the Castro regime to expand its control over the Cuban people.
Liberalizing our travel policies with Cuba would fare no better than
efforts by Europe or Canada.
We have a choice. We can keep the pressure on the Castro regime and help
bring about a post-Castro government that could start anew with us by
leaving communism behind. Or we can remove travel restrictions and not
only give the Communist party the means to persist, but legitimize their
treatment of the Cuban people over the past 60 years.
For nearly a half century the United States stood alone to stare down
the Evil Empire and its spread of communism. We did this not just
because communism posed serious threats to our security, as in the case
of the Soviet Union, or minimal threats, as in the case of modern day
Cuba, but because it is in fact evil. Communism flies squarely in the
face of the very liberty and natural rights on which we base our entire
How can anyone honestly say now is the time to ignore all that has
happened in Cuba? Let us send a message to the next generation of Cuban
leaders after the Castros: they can continue a defeated evil regime, or
be welcomed as a free nation with the United States as partner.
Congressman Tom Rooney represents Florida's 16th district. He is the
only member of the Florida delegation serving on either the House or
Senate Agriculture Committees.