Friday, February 2, 2007

Miami Herald Supports People-to-People Visits

Posted on Thu, Feb. 01, 2007

Travel restrictions not in our best interest


The U.S. government is blowing its best chance to encourage a peaceful transition in Cuba by holding fast to counterproductive restrictions on travel to the island. Denying a visit to Cuba by the World Trade Center Palm Beach, a not-for-profit group, is a perfect example.

At a time when Cuba's future is uncertain, this U.S. business group could have promoted the virtues of free enterprise and U.S. humanitarian assistance. Instead, the White House's insistence on an inflexible policy snuffed this opportunity for a beneficial people-to-people exchange.

Current travel and trade rules allow U.S. citizens with special licenses to visit Cuba for a variety of reasons, among them educational, religious and humanitarian. WTC Palm Beach planned to take 30 South Florida professionals to establish ties, offer assistance, learn about Cuba and ''familiarize the right people about the positive aspects of trade and industry in our area,'' according to Louis Haddad, WTC Palm Beach's president. This wasn't a trip for people masquerading as an educational or religious group in order to party and drop U.S. dollars in Havana.

Possibility of change

U.S. travelers such as the WTC group carry information to Cubans from abroad and dispel ugly myths about the United States. Doing so makes these visitors the best ambassadors for democracy and free markets in Cuba. When U.S. visitors offer humanitarian assistance, they also help reduce the fear of change among ordinary Cubans and even government officials.

We support the U.S. embargo on commerce with Cuba. But the current restrictions go too far in restricting legitimate travel by Cuban Americans and others, such as WTC Palm Beach. Now that power shifts open the possibility of change in the 48-year-old dictatorship, U.S. policy should encourage, not reject, constructive people-to-people contacts with Cuba.

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