Friday, January 14, 2011

New Cuba travel rules: Devil's in the details

The new regulations on travel to Cuba are supposed to be published within two weeks. I am curious how federal authorities will define "senior Cuban government officials or senior members of the Cuban Communist Party."
The White House announcement says anyone in the United States will be able to send $500 per quarter to "non-family members in Cuba to support private economic activity, among other purposes."
But the money can't go to senior government officials or senior members of the Communist Party.
I wonder what makes someone a senior official. How old do you have to be? How many years do you have to be in government?
It seems like a silly rule. If U.S. officials are trying to channel money to people who want change, some older people want that, too. And some young Cubans are strong government supporters. So age doesn't always define one's views.
Another thing that will need to be further defined is "purposeful travel." The White House announcement describes that as "religious, cultural, and educational travel." The idea is to promote non-tourist travel. But how do you prevent someone on "purposeful travel" from veering off to Varadero?

I wonder what Cuban officials think about all this. I called one Cuban official and he told me he couldn't talk about it. He couldn't say, either, if the White House announcement is linked in any way to the fate of Alan Gross.
Just a hunch, but I would not jump to the conclusion that the Cuban government sees the new travel regulations as a monumental change. The trade embargo is still in place. Economic sanctions continue. Cuba remains on the State Department's terrorism list.
The U.S. government hasn't said that it has ended pro-democracy programs, has it? These programs - which the Cuban government sees as illegal - continue.
And loosened travel rules may actually boost those U.S.-financed programs because they give U.S.-government paid workers more ways to travel to Cuba legally without arousing suspicion.
And so while I'm sure Cuban officials welcome any increase in remittances and additional travel revenue, the new travel regulations also create some complications for the socialist government.
In an ideal world, all Americans - not just "purposeful" travelers - should be able to journey freely to any nation of the world.
Cubans should enjoy the same right, but they don't.
The U.S. and Cuba still have a long way to go before they achieve something resembling normal relations.
They've spent more than a half century fighting, and peace isn't going to come easily.

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