News of possibly easing the embargo on Cuba and lifting travel restrictions to Cuba are circulating. With a new U.S. administration in charge and a promise to change past and outdated US foreign policies, one group in particular has become worried. The conservative Cuban-American political leadership is unhappy about this possible change of tone toward their homeland. In 1962, the U.S. instituted a trade embargo against Cuba designed to undermine its communist government.
President Obama has publicly come out with plans to ease travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans, but will keep the embargo in place. Cuban-American leaders argue that Cuban natives should have the freedom to travel and visit their family on the island as they wish. The same group also argues that tourists should not be allowed to visit the island, because tourist dollars will buoy Cuba's economy and fortify the already entrenched dictatorship. Moreover, why should Americans enjoy the good life of Cuba's beaches while the locals suffer under a repressive government? Both are strategies to undermine the Castro regime. I take no issues with their argument, but rather my issue is with their blatant hypocrisy.
Conservative Cuban-American politicians, like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), are both vocal supporters of Israel and advocates for continued sanctions against Cuba. The inconsistency of their political stance is obvious.
Ros-Lehtinen, and many others with similar views, gives Israel vocal support and pledge to never second-guess its policies. Allow me to show the hypocrisy: when they argue for freedom of travel for the Cubans living in America and condone the policies of a country that constantly puts barriers between neighboring Palestinian towns and builds a land-grabbing wall, I shudder! I am a native of Gaza (where my entire family resides), but I do not have the liberty of visiting my family in Gaza. As a result of Israel's siege on Gaza -- which existed before and after the Hamas electoral victory in 2006 -- I had to wait five years before seeing my family. My uncle Mohammad waited decades, hoping he could return to visit with his family in Gaza, but alas he passed way in the U.A.E. without ever returning home. Palestinians, the actual natives of the land, need a visa to visit their homes in Gaza. They need a permit to farm their own land in the West Bank.
Whenever I hear Ros-Lehtinen speak of not allowing American tourists to visit Cuba, I can see where she is coming from. She often says tourists should not indulge on what the natives of Cuba cannot themselves enjoy. But I have not heard her criticize Israel, where I, a native of Palestine, am not permitted to travel to visit family. Israeli authorities prevent a Palestinian from visiting his relatives, who may be 10 minutes away in the neighboring town or village. Even going fishing on the Gaza coast is fraught with political and military risks. Within the Occupied Palestinian Territories there are also exclusive "bypass roads," which Palestinians are not allowed to use. The towns and roads I am speaking of are vital to sustaining the Palestinian economy. That's why I fail to understand the inconsistency when you argue for freedom of travel for the natives of the land of Cuba while supporting the exact opposite in my home country.
As a native of Gaza, a narrow strip of land that is currently sealed by an embargo -- not only from the U.S., but also from Europe and Israel -- I can only begin to imagine the sort of suffering, poverty and misery Cuba has suffered for five decades. The good people of Palestine and Cuba are the real victims: the byproduct of an inconsistent policy. Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen and others like her cannot have it both ways. While we Palestinians support the Cubans struggle for freedom, why does the Cuban American leadership constantly undermined ours? For once, please try to practice what you preach.