Monday, February 21, 2011

Freedom to Travel to Cuba: What Does It Mean for American Democracy?

Freedom to Travel to Cuba: What Does It Mean for American Democracy?

My guest post today is from Ernesto Morales Licea, until recently one of
my fellow bloggers on the Island. Ernesto is a journalist who was fired
from his position allegedly for, as he eloquently describes here,
reading forbidden materials. A campaign of serious accusations was then
launched against him, and he recently moved to the United States where
he is once again working as a journalist and continuing to blog.

Uncomfortable Freedoms
By Ernesto Morales Licea

One of the most notable differences between living and growing socially
in a democratic country versus doing so in a country governed by
totalitarian precepts, is the respect for freedom to make one's own
decisions. The sovereign freedom to choose in each moment what to do
with one's own life.

"Great freedom implies great responsibility," a friend told me on my
arrival in the United States. Let's simplify those words to the most
elemental: If no one--not institutions, nor political police, nor the
State--controls your religion or ideology; if no one curtails your
freedom of expression or decides how much money you earn and what you
spend it on, all the responsibility for these acts rest with you.

And how good that is.

When governments or state officials forget their limits and begin to
decide what kind of religion its people should practice, or what
television they should watch (in Cuba today they broadcast a nightly
program called "The Best of Telesur," where they select, with tweezers,
what Cubans should see even within this "friendly" channel), when the
government begins to regulate, for example, where its citizens can or
cannot travel, the foundations of democracy, by definition, are cracking.

Right, Senator Rubio; Left, Senator Menendez

This basic premise, it seems, has been forgotten by Senators Marco Rubio
(Florida), and Bob Menendez (New Jersey), in their attempt to block the
Obama administration's expansion of travel to Cuba.

And I stress "attempt," because, fortunately, when there is great
nonsense there will always be great common sense to contain it: Their
proposal has just been rejected, and at least for now Congress won't
even discuss it.

What was it about this time? Stopping the expansion of flights to Cuba
for certain purposes to which the White House has given a green
light--academic, religious and humanitarian travel--and dismantling the
prohibitions that George W. Bush, in his infinite litany of mistakes,
implemented against Cuba during his tenure.

The argument of the Republican Senator Rubio seems to be taken from the
same discourse as the former president's, when he argued Cuban-Americans
should not be able to return to the country of their birth more than
once every three years: "To increase direct commercial or charter
flights to state sponsors of terrorism is totally irresponsible."

And in addition: ""There is no reason for the United States to help
enrich state sponsors of terrorism."

Before analyzing the veracity or accuracy of these words about Cuba as a
country that promotes terrorism in its most direct sense, before even
calculating how much wealth the government of the Island actually
accrues through these flights, we should look at the matter through the
following prism:

How is it possible that the United States itself, which, in the name of
supreme democracy, for example, respects the presence within its borders
of Muslims hostile to the foundations of this nation (and I'm speaking
here of those Muslims who did not hide their joy and praise to Allah at
the time of the 9/11 massacre), can then seek to curb the freedom of
people to travel wherever they see fit?

From another perspective, one can believe that some people make poor
spending decisions when, for example, they devote their lives to
alcohol. But the state does not try to stop them by force, with laws
that prohibit spending money on alcohol. We already saw what happened in
the United States alone when the absurd "Dry Law"--Prohibition--took
effect in 1919.

So, if the founding framework that sustains this nation is democracy in
its most basic sense, Senators Rubio and Menendez may well believe that
travel to Cuba and help to Cuban families is oxygen to the government of
the Island (an argument that from my point of view is ridiculous), but
they must NOT restrict the rights of Cuban Americans to decide what they
want to do with their own money earned through honest work.

Above all, they should not decide this when it is not the stomachs of
their mothers or children who are finding sustenance in these trips or

And on this point, I will raise my flag: I am not willing to believe in
the purity of intentions, the moral honestly of those who allegedly
advocate for the welfare and full freedom of Cuba, but who at the same
time ignore their families and don't interest themselves in whether they
are able to eat twice a day or are clothed in rags.

The truth is that in the vast majority of cases, those who argue
vehemently against financial aid for Cuban families, and against family
visits, meet one of two conditions: (1) They have no one on the Island,
or (2) They are terrible children, terrible parents, terrible siblings;
and in that case their opinion means nothing to me.

As a matter of policy, it is quite possible to have civil liberties that
make certain interests uncomfortable. Interests that are fair and
justified, or interests that are petty. Individual freedoms which, if
they didn't exist, could greatly facilitate the implementation of
measures which in the long term could be beneficial to a particular end.

But it's important never to forget that the narrow line that separates
democracy from authoritarianism is always crossed by a single first
step--believing in the power to decide, for example, how often people
can travel to a certain country, or who can travel there and who
cannot--and it is the responsibility of those who grow up in fully free
societies to never jeopardize their foundations."

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