Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cuba Travel on the Horizon?

Cuba Travel on the Horizon?
Nicholas Maliska is a research intern with the New America
Foundation/U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative.

Rumors that the Obama Administration is preparing to announce measures
that will ease travel restrictions to Cuba have been circulating for
several weeks, but the news now seems to be official with multiple
knowledgeable sources indicating that the announcement will come within
the next week or two.

The scope of the changes is still unknown and could range from a limited
loosening of restrictions on specific licenses back to where it was
during the Clinton years to permitting general licenses in all twelve
categories of travel, which would facilitate the greatest amount of
non-tourist visits to Cuba. The changes will certainly be the biggest
development in U.S. policy towards Cuba since President Obama announced
the easing of restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances to
the island in April 2009 and will send a long overdue signal that the
Obama Administration takes Cuba policy seriously.

In the context of U.S.-Cuban relations more broadly, some analysts have
been framing this development in the context of a tit-for-tat diplomatic
maneuvering with the Cuban government. Earlier this summer after
negotiations with the Catholic Church in Cuba, Raul Castro announced
that 52 political prisoners would be released (26 of which have been
freed and sent to Spain thus far). The easing of travel restrictions,
they say, is Washington's response to the release of the political

However, these changes have likely been in the works for some time as
Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council on
Foreign Relations indicated in a recent Washington Post article: "It's a
little easier to do it, given the political prisoners' release. But I
think they were going to do it anyway."

Those looking at the Obama Administration's announcement as a move in a
tit-for-tat framework will expect another gesture from the Cuban
government in turn (such as the release of Alan Gross, the USAID
contractor imprisoned since last December) before the U.S. makes any
further changes. Yet, prompt actions and reform have not been
characteristic of the Castros, who have already outlasted ten American

The U.S. should not wait on the Cuban government to make further changes
that benefit the Cuban people and are in our national interest. The U.S.
should continue to readjust its policies to utilize our best asset, the
American people, to engage with the Cubans and help in turn to develop a
more open Cuban society.

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