I just finished watching a 26 minute video where Senator Mel Martinez of Florida sets forth the reasons he opposes easing travel to Cuba. He provides an interesting historical overview, explaining that President Eisenhower was the first to place trade sanctions on Cuba, banning the selling of sugar, oil, and guns in response to Castro’s horrific human rights violations. When barrels of Soviet oil began to arriving on the island, U.S. oil companies in Cuba refused to continue refining, resulting in Cuba’s nationalization of the refineries without ever paying a dime of compensation to the companies.
Notwithstanding the whole discussion of whether the U.S. actually fired the first salvo by imposing trade sanctions on critical commodities, forcing Cuba to look to other sources, I believe there is a much greater issue at hand. The best way to fight communism is for people who live in a free and democratic society to interact with those who suffer under communism. Although Castro has been able to maintain power through violence and control, his most effective tool may be the policies of the U.S. government. The prohibition on travel assures that Cubans are not exposed to capitalist thought and ideology.
Additionally, our policy is not consistent. The U.S. government bans travel to Cuba, yet we are allowed to freely travel to Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and a plethora other countries around the world that either have communist governments or strong communist leanings (Colombia or Angola, anyone?). Myanmar is a case in point. For years the government successfully suppressed its citizens through intimidation, violence, and acts of atrocity, including the wholesale slaughter of monks who protested. They were able to do so with impunity because news of these actions rarely, if ever, reached the outside world. But over the past few years, visitors to the country have begun reporting these incidents via videos shot on cell phones, eliciting a public outcry against the government. Simultaneously, Burmese are learning more about democracy and capitalism through interaction with outsiders, which has effectively strengthened their resolve against the corrupt communist regime.
Martinez is intimately familiar with the historical events that led to our current Cuban policy because he grew up in Cuba and was a first-hand witness to much of what he described in his speech. He is no doubt correct when he speaks of the atrocities of the Castro regime and I am sure he is well-meaning in his opposition to changing our current policies. Unfortunately, I believe his personal history is getting in the way of effecting real and lasting change for his own people. We need to get to know one another – and I am referring to the people, not the government. The only way to do this is to eliminate the Cuban travel ban.
Watch Senator Martinez’s speech and decide for yourself: