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An Op-Ed to Lift Travel Restrictions

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From Ethelbert Miller's E-Notes blog on Tuesday February 25, 2009 

At Ethelbert’s suggestion, I would like to invite readers to consider joining an initiative I am coordinating to help pass legislation to assure the legal right of all U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. With Obama in the White House, the chances of success in this endeavor are better than they have been in years. But energy and passion are needed to get us there.

In February, Senators Lugar (R-IN), Dorgan (D-ND), Enzi (R-WY), and Dodd (D-CT) introduced legislation in the Senate (S428) to allow all United States citizens to travel to Cuba. A parallel “Travel for All” bill has been introduced in the House by Representatives Delahunt (D-MA) and Flake (R-AZ).Under President Obama, the freedom to travel legally to Cuba could become a reality. Experts estimate that over a million Americans would visit the island nation within the first year after the travel ban is lifted and that the embargo would crumble under the weight of massive cultural interchange, but such changes are unlikely to happen without a major push. Getting the Senate and House bills and passed is the crucial next step.

To help Travel for All become a reality, we need to find people who will write and/or sign a newspaper op-ed and/or letter to the editor in support of the new bills and to send copies of what is submitted to newspapers to their representatives in Congress as well. We need a variety of voices and perspectives from across the country. The “we” is a committee I am coordinating, comprised of staff of the Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America (two progressive organizations in D.C. that have been working for more enlightened U.S.-Cuba policy for years) and several volunteers. We have produced a “template” for writing op-ed that we are ready to share with those willing to join us in this effort. The information we can provide includes draft language and specific suggestions to help craft an op-ed column that has the greatest chance possible of being accepted for publication. The members of our group can also provide support for anyone wanting assistance with writing a piece or getting it placed in an appropriate media outlet.

In the coming days, President Obama is expected to lift restrictions on the rights of Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba and provide them financial support, as he promised in his campaign. When he takes this decision, it will be laudable first-step in the effort to reform comprehensively our outdated and futile policy toward Cuba. But we can’t let him stop there. We believe that the constitutional right to travel belongs everybody and that our policy toward Cuba should favor engagement – diplomatic, economic, cultural, academic, social, and religious – so that Americans and Cubans can properly enjoy the richness of both societies without being forced to ask their government’s permission to be good neighbors and friends.

If you are interested in working with us on (and hopefully celebrating with us over mojitos in Havana), please contact me by email at Jeanne.lemkau@wright.edu or contact Angela Salazar at the Washington Office on Latin America (asalazar@wola.com / 202 797-2171).

(Jeanne Lemkau is a clinical psychologist, writer, and Cubaphile who lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.)