Our continent-spanning country is large—and we contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman had it. Since we are so big, we sometimes fall into the habit of thinking we are all that there is. The reality is we are just a part of the world, and we are a better people making better decisions when we remember that.
So when thinking about our relations with neighbors, it’s well to remember that our longtime unilateral foreign policy toward Cuba is literally just that. Citizens of over 160 other nations around the world can travel to the island anytime they wish to, smoke Cuban cigars, drink Cuban rum. It is only we citizens of the United States who can’t readily do those things. Yet what has that policy done toward effecting reform ever since the awful Communist revolution pushed out the awful American-backed dictatorship 60 years ago?
Five years ago, recognizing mere reality and hoping for some leverage on human and economic rights for Cubans, the Obama administration began lifting the travel ban for Americans and adjusting trade policies. Though Cuban aid and comfort to the despicable Venezuelan regime is wrong, saying so has made no difference. The European Union agrees with us about the need for reform, noting Cuba’s “continuing flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” But if a German wants to go sit on a Cuban beach, she can.
The Trump administration last month took a backward step when it restricted even group educational and cultural trips to the island. It also forbade cruise-ship trips there by Americans—after 142,721 Americans went to Cuba on cruises just this year, through April. The policy change, billed by the administration as aimed at stopping Cuban support for American adversaries in the Western Hemisphere, will instead just serve as political window-dressing. It’s a reactionary lurch in reverse that will surely be nixed by a future administration. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of curious Americans, goodwill ambassadors for our culture, will be needlessly prevented from visiting our neighbors.
Free trade and discussion have and will continue to achieve more than sanctions and restricting the liberty of American travelers.
The Orange County Register published this editorial on June 20.