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.
The other day, I participated in a conference call with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman. I was eager to see what he would have to say, ever since the House Agriculture Committee passed legislation to end the Cuba travel ban and ease agriculture trade restrictions back in June. Many Cuba pundits have wondered what Mr. Berman, who has jurisdiction over the travel ban piece of the bill, might do next.
Berman cleared that up in no short order, and candidly expressed his determination to round up the votes he needs to pass the bill, make it available for subsequent floor consideration, embolden the Senate to act, and to provide political cover and encouragement to the Obama administration to use its executive authority to loosen restrictions on travel until the Congress is able to finish the job. This late in the Congressional session, Berman seems to have decided, rightly I think, to use both private and public persuasion to get the votes he needs.
I’ve long been in Berman’s camp when it comes to why the travel ban should end – as he said on the call, “as a matter of principle, this is about Americans’ right to travel.”
But let’s remember why doing travel is important, especially now. At the core of U.S. policy toward Cuba is the linkage established both by law and the declarations of the Obama administration that says, we won’t liberalize the embargo unless Cuba reforms its system, such as releasing prisoners. Although Cuba rejects that linkage – as do I, because I think it puts our policy in someone else’s hands – the fact is that Cuba did the deal with the Spanish government and the Catholic Church on human rights, it is in the process of releasing all of the 52 remaining dissidents rounded up in March 2003 (27 released so far), and U.S. policy makers should use this moment to incent the Cubans to do more. Actions by Obama and the Congress to open up travel to Cuba would signal back to the Cubans – we see and support what you’re doing. Failing to acknowledge the progress being made on the island would further undermine the credibility of the policy.
— Anya Landau French