Dozens protest Cuba travel restrictions
By Elias E. Lopez
MIAMI - A small crowd of mostly Cuban exiles gathered on a sidewalk Saturday to express frustration with the Bush administration's restrictions on traveling to the communist island to visit family.
The protest is part of a stepped-up effort to ease the restrictions after federal lawmakers in Washington filed legislation that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit the island at will and lift a general Cuba travel ban for all American citizens.
"It's crazy and it's criminal," said Manuel Rey, 51, who has an uncle and cousins in Havana. "It's an erroneous policy that makes no sense."
On Jan. 25, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., submitted a bill that would lift the general travel ban. Six days later, Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., filed legislation to permit Cuban Americans to visit Cuba anytime they want.
The restrictions, adopted in 2004, have been credited by the administration with keeping badly needed hard currency out of the hands of Fidel Castro's regime.
But on Saturday demonstrators carried signs and chanted slogans against the rules that limit family visits to once every three years, with no humanitarian exceptions for family emergencies. The measures also do not include aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins on the list that qualifies as family.
One of the groups involved in organizing Saturday's demonstration, the Association of Christian Women in Defense of the Family, said in a statement last week that "now, more than ever, is the time to act" because Congress is considering bills to ease travel restrictions.
"It's very cruel; I have my father in Cuba. He's 92. I wish I could visit him more," said Rosa Reyes, 69, president of the association, during the protest staged near the offices of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. - a staunch supporter of the restrictions.
Another demonstrator held up a bullhorn and led the crowd chanting: "Ileana respeta, con mi familia no te metas!" - "Ileana respect, don't mess with my family."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement last week urging Congress to pass legislation that would end Cuba travel restrictions. The statement said Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' committee on international policy, praised lawmakers seeking an end to the restrictions. Wenski spent many years working in Miami-Dade.
"No one should be prevented from visiting a dying relative or attending a loved one's funeral simply for having traveled to Cuba once in the previous three years," Wenski said in the statement.
© 2007, The Miami Herald.