This post, which originally appeared at The Havana Note, is a guest note by Tom Garofalo, a consultant for the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative.
Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, wrote this week that because ten of the Cuban political prisoners newly arrived in Spain signed a letter indicating their opposition to the European Union’s lifting the Common Position, that should justify the continuation of the U.S. ban on travel to the island. Since 1996, the Common Position has guided E.U. policy on Cuba, seeking to use “constructive, result-oriented political dialogue” to encourage a transition to democracy. The ex-prisoners’ letter calls for Europe to work “to secure for all Cubans the same rights that European citizens enjoy.” Among those rights is the right to travel, which Cubans have long been denied by their government.
Diehl, in his effort to draw a hasty (PostPartisan is billed as “a quick take” by Post opinion writers on issues of the day) parallel between the disagreement over European policy with differences over our own, failed to note a great irony: here in the Land of the Free, we are also denied the right to travel – to Cuba. In fact, four of the signers of the letter to European foreign ministers signed a letter to the U.S. Congress about six weeks ago arguing that the the United States should lift its 50-year-old ban on travel to the island. The reason they have won the world’s attention is because they’ve risked everything to champion the idea that, as the letter to Congress stated, “rights must be protected with rights.” The Post’s editors might be content, even happy, to trade away our rights in order to emerge victorious from the last conflict of the Cold War, but Cuba’s democracy advocates understand that would be a defeat for everyone.
Diehl doesn’t seem to be aware that a number of the E.U. letter signers also signed the letter to our Congress. In his “quick take” he’d rather use the E.U. letter as a bludgeon against those – he calls them “liberals” — who are calling for an “unconditional lifting of the already loophole-ridden” embargo. (I suppose one of the loopholes Diehl is lamenting is that Congress allows American farmers to sell food to Cuba. But our freedom to make our own choices about visiting Cuba is not.)
But for better or worse, the only Cuba measure being considered by the Congress these days is not about lifting the embargo. The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, H.R. 4645, would end the ban on travel by Americans to Cuba, and would make two small but significant changes in the ways that Cuba pays for the products it buys from American farmers. Its lead sponsors, Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jerry Moran of Kansas, can be called liberals only in the Enlightenment sense of the word (don’t take my word for it – check their websites).
We’ve come to expect these kinds of strawmen from the advocates of the embargo. It is still a surprise to see them on the editorial page of the Washington Post.
— Tom Garofalo