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Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee

Posted: August 19, 2010 10:57 AM

Mr. President: Lift the Travel Ban

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With reports this week that the Obama administration will announce plans to expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba, the embargo between the U.S. and Cuba has once again become a major topic of discussion.

As reported, the administration's plan would loosen restrictions on travel by academic, religious, and cultural groups that were imposed by President George W. Bush's administration and return to the "people-to-people policies" followed under President Bill Clinton's administration.

This, along with the Obama administration's move last year to allow Cuban Americans to provide basic humanitarian assistance to their families and help them remain connected to their relatives, are both steps in the right direction. But they are not enough.

It is far past time that we end the counterproductive and unnecessary travel ban.

If one examines the history of American foreign affairs, it is hard to find a policy that has lasted for as long, yet so obviously failed, as our trade embargo of Cuba. If someone had told President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 that the Cuban embargo would last 50 years, would Eisenhower have considered a different approach?

We'll never know, but what we do know is that a half-century of the embargo hasn't brought down Castro's government. And it certainly hasn't helped Americans in any way. At long last, the time has come for the embargo to end.

The old cliché says that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result." Yet whenever the question of the embargo is raised, its defenders say we need to keep it in place so we can keep pressure to promote democratic reforms, including greater freedom of speech, religion, and association. This is the same argument that has been made for 50 years. The embargo didn't bring about democratic reform in 1960, or 1970, or 1980, and it won't do so in 2010. We need to try a new approach.

That approach is engagement - individual, cultural, and economic. It won't be only Cubans who will reap the benefits. The House Agriculture Committee recently passed the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, of which I am proud to be a co-sponsor. It lifts all restrictions on travel to Cuba, and allows American farmers to sell their crops to this waiting market just a few miles off our shores. It will be an important first step, but we need to go even farther, to eliminate the trade embargo that has failed for so long.

The result will be hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the American economy, and the creation of thousands of American jobs. And when Cubans start buying our goods and forming relationships with Americans, the path to their future - a democratic and prosperous one - will become clearer than ever.

If we can allow travel and trade with nations such as China and Vietnam, then surely we can move forward with lifting the travel ban and ending the embargo with Cuba.