By Randy Schultz
Editor of the Editorial Page
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Which country does the United States government believe poses a greater threat to the United States: Cuba or Iran?
Which country is it easier for United States citizens to visit: Cuba or Iran?
The answers are Iran and Iran. Yes, Iran. Suspected-of-concealing-a-nuclear weapons-program Iran. Wipe-Israel-off-the-map Iran. The Holocaust-never-happened Iran. Aiding-terrorists-in-Iraq Iran. Axis-of-Evil Iran.
If you're an American and you'd like to visit Iran, however, the American government won't stand in your way. The State Department will warn you, strongly, about anti-American sentiment. The U.S. doesn't have diplomatic relations with Iran, so if you get in trouble you're probably on your own. The department especially will warn Iranian-Americans that they might not be able to leave when their visit is over because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.
But travel to Iran is legal for Americans. You can book it online: American Airlines from Miami to New York, then Turkish Airlines to Istanbul and on to Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport, named for the leader of the Islamic revolution that took power in 1979 and held 53 Americans hostage for 444 days between November 1979 and January 1981. Fare: $1,500.
Even a North Korea visit is OK
If you want to visit Cuba, though, forget it, in most cases. Unless you fit into one of a few categories - related to journalism or education - Americans can't go. If you have family in Cuba, you can go only once every three years. Here are the State Department rules:
"Regulations require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed to engage in any travel-related transactions pursuant to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada. U.S. law enforcement authorities have increased enforcement of these regulations at U.S. airports and pre-clearance facilities in third countries. Travelers who fail to comply with Department of Treasury regulations could face civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States."
How weird is that? You can visit a country half a world away that just a few months ago was being talked up as the next place the U.S. would invade. But you can't visit a country less than an hour by plane from Florida that threatens the United States about as much as Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States.
What about North Korea, the third country in Mr. Bush's Axis of Evil? The North Korea that has built several nuclear weapons on Mr. Bush's watch and whose leader the president called "a pygmy"? The U.S. government encourages Americans to register with the U.S. embassy in the Chinese capital of Beijing. Otherwise, have a great trip.
Acting as though it's still 1962
It all seems even more ludicrous, now that Fidel Castro has given up direct control after 49 years - and nearly 10 U.S. presidents. America has diplomatic relations with Vietnam, which killed nearly 60,000 Americans. America always had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, which had thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us. America has diplomatic relations with countries that are as totalitarian as Cuba.
With Cuba, though, we live in a time warp. Diplomatically, it's 1962, when Americans watched three channels on Philco televisions, Sam Walton was opening his first Wal-Mart and the Beatles were releasing their first single, when singles weren't just downloads. It's missiles pointed at the United States from 90 miles away. More to the point, it's Cuban-American voters who still consider themselves exiles, and their Florida supporters in Congress.
Just compare the State Department language. Iran is "a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in a learned religious scholar, the Supreme Leader." But Cuba is "a totalitarian police state, which relies on repressive methods to maintain control. ...The regime is strongly anti-American yet desperate for U.S. dollars to prop itself up."
It was in our interest to recognize, while strongly disagreeing with, the Soviet government, even during the most polar moments of the Cold War. It would be in our interest to recognize, while strongly disagreeing with, the Cuban government. Which poses a greater threat to the United States: A 50-year-old failed policy, or a new attitude?
Randy Schultz is editor of the editorial page of The Palm Beach Post. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org