My home in Cuba.
This is a guest post by Anya Landau French, who directs the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative. This post originally appeared at The Havana Note.
Remember this gem from then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fisk in 2004?
“An individual can decide when they want to travel once every three years and the decision is up to them . . . So if they have a dying relative, they have to figure out when they want to travel.”
Naturally, we all applauded a year ago when President Obama finally implemented new rules that meant that U.S. policy would help reunite, instead of further divide, thousands of Cuban families, whether for beach vacations or deathbed visits.
But there was still, of course, a catch. If you have loved ones on the island but you aren’t related by blood or by marriage, you’re out of luck. That’s the position I find myself in today. For years, I’ve traveled to Cuba to conduct research and to help translate the Cuban reality, warts and all, back to the U.S., where so few of us have the opportunity to get to know the largest island in the Caribbean, or the wonderful people who live there. And in that time, I’ve made friends so close they have essentially become family to me and I to them. And so it was with deep sadness that I learned this weekend that one of them has passed away.
I find myself not only sad, but angry. Angry that a man who was like a father to me never got the chance to actually meet my father, or my husband (whom he was so happy to learn of when we found each other), or my adorable nephews back in the U.S., whose photos we all pored over together, year after year, when my work would bring me back again to the island. I’m angry, too, that my government allows me travel to to the island for work I plan months in advance, but when it most counts, I’m powerless to be with my loved ones right now during this difficult time.
Never more than now have I personally felt the damage our travel ban can do. In spite of the foibles of our two governments, in spite of all of the water under the bridge between our two nations, there must be so many people just like me, who first traveled to Cuba as part of an exchange and ended up making lasting bonds with the warm and open people we encountered there.
I often wonder if Dan Fisk regretted those infamously callous words of his, in justifying the separation of Cuban families across the straits of Florida. That policy is gone, but there’s much more the Obama Administration and Congress could do to bring our two peoples closer. To say that the time has come to end the inhumanity would be an understatement. That time came years ago. One can only hope that U.S. policymakers are finally as ashamed of our idiotic, hurtful policy as I feel today.
— Anya Landau French