Travel to Cuba is a sensitive political topic in the Cuban Diaspora and in policy circles in this town. As it should be. The Obama Administration has failed miserably to effectively deal with the Cuba question. This has happened, in part, because it has no policy vision for the Western Hemisphere. The Administration’s reaction to pop stars Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z visiting the island is case in point. It reminds me of how much misinformation is out there on this topic.
The Cuban island has few natural resources of export value, so the government needs to generate money in other ways. Cuba has done as other Caribbean countries and for decades has tried to develop its tourism sector to fuel money flow. More tourist, more hard currency. With more money comes more resources to fuel the regime. Since the Cuban treasury has been in the red for decades, tourism is the only real money generator for the regime.
Tourism for Cuba is what oil is to Iran. It provides needed revenue to fund the communist government and its repressive human rights machine. Your either with the Communist Party or you’re not. There are no options in Cuba. Because of it, and for other reasons too numerous to list here, the U.S. limits travel and financial transactions with Cuba by U.S. persons. U.S. law makes it harder for the Cuban government to make money.
Restricting travel and money flows to Cuba has worked. After years of resistance, U.S. laws have forced the government to make changes to the system, albeit anemic and mostly cosmetic. I’m in the camp who believe that as long as either Castro brother remains, substantive political and economic reforms will not happen. Hence, our government should carefully calibrate who is allowed to travel to Cuba.
Restricting all travel to Cuba is not a good thing; however, there is too much travel allowed these days. Cuba’s opposition movement needs help and one of the ways to help them is by traveling to Cuba to provide it with resources, assistance, and moral support. But an overwhelming majority of travel to Cuba involves de facto tourism or trips disguised as humanitarian family travel or cultural exchanges known as people-to-people travel. Want evidence?
Start by visiting the American Airlines terminal and watch who is going and what they are taking with them. There are also black market networks with links — all mostly legal — to small stories in South Florida and other U.S. cities that make millions for the regime in goods exported to Cuba via informal networks. Castro incorporated is a lucrative business. It has become so complex a network, however, that I think the U.S. government has given up trying to crack down.
I’m glad the Beyoncé and Jay-Z Cuba trip was the headlines for a few days. Drudge even led with several related items a few times. Even Rolling Stones magazine covered it. Most people would have ignored the junket. With some clever advance work, Beyoncé and Jay-Z could have scored some brownie points with human rights activists if they had made an effort to visit with Cuban artists that are targeted by the regime. But they turned out to be narcissists and political voyeurs. They wasted stardom. And the Obama Administration, an opportunity.
In related news, Cuban-American rapper Pitbull prepared a tune for Beyoncé and Jay-Z (link below). Always good to see the forces of good make lemonade out of lemons.