Many in the United States Congress continue to hem and haw when it comes to repealing the unjust ban on U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba, but the head-honchos of Cuban civil society know where they stand — and, presumably tired of the hardliners invoking their name in opposition to any change to the status quo, they’ve decided to set the record straight. In a letter made public on June 9th, 74 Cubans urged members of Congress to vote in favor of H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, legislation currently being considered by the House Committee on Agriculture that would restore the right of each and every U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, without getting a permission slip from Uncle Sam, and ease the sale of U.S. food to the island.
Among those who lent his or her voice to this stirring defense of the freedom to travel as a fundamental human right, something that the hardliners in Congress might want to acknowledge, and plea for increased contact with U.S. travelers are: the internationally-renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez, the only Cuban to have interviewed Barack Obama in his young presidency; Miriam Leiva, a co-founder of the Ladies in White, a group of a few dozen women whose relatives are political prisoners; and independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas, who’s been waging a hunger strike since late February in protest of conditions for ill prisoners.
If you’ve spent any time listening to the defenders of our 1950s-era Cuba policy (for your sake, not too much, we hope), you’d think that these Cubans would be the least likely to want a change in U.S. policy. Yet, the truth is that they’ve been quietly supportive all along, a fact that’s been communicated to notable human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, encouraging them to join the chorus of diverse voices calling on Congress to wake up and do the right thing.
Here are some memorable quotes from the letter:
“…the isolation of the people of Cuba benefits the most inflexible interests of its government, while any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society.”
“The supportive presence of American citizens, their direct help, and the many opportunities for exchange, used effectively and in the desired direction, would not be an abandonment of Cuban civil society but rather a force to strengthen it. Similarly, to further facilitate the sale of agricultural products would help alleviate the food shortages we now suffer.”
“The current Cuban government has always violated this right and in recent years has justified its actions with the fact that the government of the United States also restricts its citizens’ freedom to travel. The passage of this bill would remove this spurious justification.”
The Obama Administration, like administrations before it, and certain members of Congress routinely trot out the plight of Cuban civil society — “the dissidents” — as a justification for maintaining the status quo — however foolish, inhumane, and ineffective it’s been — demanding that the situation for those who oppose the Castros improve before any overtures or policy changes are made by the United States. As this letter makes abundantly clear, many of the so-called dissidents in Cuba disagree with this hardline, quid pro quo approach and want to see U.S. travelers coming to the island and exchanging with everyday Cubans. Is this the game changer we’ve been waiting for? We might find out in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.
Photo Credit: exfordy