Tell Us Where To Go
Copyright © by Len Holman, 8/12/10
We officially don’t like Cuba. They are Commies and we don’t like Commies—and haven’t in a very, very long time. We have cozied up to every flavor of dictator there is, whenever it serves our interests, but Communists have a special place in our hearts. Of course, it’s getting harder and harder to find those pinkos, so we commonly use terms like “Socialist” and “dictator” for others we don’t like, like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and we speak of giving back freedom to people, and human rights and such, just to keep us in practice. But Cuba really gets our juices boiling and we are dammed if we are going to let a bunch of unpatriotic Americans lie on Cuban beaches and drink their piña coladas, smoke those juicy cigars, and listen to that decadent music.
To prevent Cubans from invading our country with their massive army and formidable air force, and to prevent them from thinking they can get away with being Cubans, right in our own back yard, and (lately) to try to keep Florida from becoming a permanently Republican state, we instituted an embargo against them—actually it’s more than just a bewildering series of tightening and loosening of various embargoes and mini-embargoes: it’s a thicket, a forest, a veritable enchanted land of grabbing vines and quicksand, and a blizzard of forms and a torrent of licenses. And since the early 60s, we’ve struggled with that Caribbean monster nation, only to discover—to our horror—that Fidel is still there, and his brother Raul is still there. Hell, Cuba is still there. The most troubling, however, of all the sanctions instituted against Cuba over the last half-century, the one which a free people shouldn’t tolerate, is the one covering travel.
There is a list—you can’t restrict citizen movement, separating those who can go somewhere from those who can’t, if you don’t have a list—of those who may travel to Cuba. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) inside the Treasury Department handles all this. “Handles” means that particular sub-bureaucracy decides, among other things, who can go to Cuba, under what circumstances, and for how long. For example (and George Orwell would LOVE this phrasing), people may go to Cuba who are visiting a close relative who is a “national of Cuba” and the amazingly arcane definition of a close relative is—wait for it—“any individual related to the traveler by blood, marriage, or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from the traveler or from a common ancestor with the traveler.” See? It’s easy to figure this out if you have a genealogy chart, a Ouija board, a horoscope, and a government official with a list.
Other categories include professionals doing research, government officials, reps of agriculture or medical firms, and…well, it’s a long list. Conspicuous by its absence, however, is one small item: regular folk who want to take pictures of themselves drinking colored liquid out of big glasses filled with fruit speared by tiny umbrellas , smoke, drink, laugh, play and go back to Kansas and email a digital catalogue of their journey to all their friends—in other words, tourists. Now, there is a lot of “backdoor” visiting—people from Mexico or Canada can sneak in, tourists can go to some other place and then slink into Cuba, but why should anyone have to do that?
Arguments against unrestricted travel include: people can already go (if they’re on the “allowed” list), and that letting tourists in will help support the Cuban government . Americans can’t go to places without permission—like North Korea , and in the past, places like Syria and Vietnam, but this is paternalistic, insulting, and wrong. If a place is dangerous, the State Department issues warnings. If a place isn’t safe, citizens should get the relevant info and then decide for themselves. If a tourist goes to a dangerous place and gets hurt or killed, he or she shouldn’t be allowed to sue anyone because it was a freely-made choice. When my kid was very young, I took him to Chuck E. Cheese, despite the dark and dire warnings of other parents. I almost died there and barely escaped. But I didn’t take a gun and stand outside that zoo and force people to stay away, which is basically what the U. S. government does, under the color of authority. Our leaders will always find reasons for keeping us out of Cuba, except for the rising business interests, and the big corporations who get a pass, and will justify it all in the name of national security or ideological purity, but we should beware of just letting others tell us what to think, who to be, where to go. Do we want a permanent, angry nation 90 miles off our coast, a blot on our democratic creds, and a continued lack of spine when it comes to certain interest groups? Are we still pouting about what happened with Elian Gonzalez? If so, then we should beg our government to make a national, unified list of no-go places and let ourselves be treated like children who can’t decide any of our destinations without Big Brother.
And if spending tourist dollars props up Cuba, let them be propped. Fidel isn’t Methuselah and Raul isn’t Fidel, and the Cuban people aren’t stupid or unindustrious. There will come a time when Cuba will be the market America wants and will consume its share of iPhones and Wranglers and reality shows and back-to-school clothes that make little girls look like bag ladies and little boys like pimps. But we, Americans who just want to have fun in a beautiful place, shouldn’t have to wait for everyone in the Cuban government who regularly wears old army uniforms to die.
If millions of adults can survive being drowned in colored balls and stomped on by fourth graders in smelly socks, I think any of us can survive Cuba.
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