The Saga continues…. After my first visit to Cuba in 1999, I was absolutely convinced that the embargo would end within a couple years. Ten years later, President Obama was inaugurated as President of the U.S. Many Americans who were following U.S.-Cuba relations felt that it was only a matter of months until normalization would be realized. In Cuba, just about everybody had hope for change. When I visited eight months later, I couldn’t find anybody who viewed Obama favorably. Apparently, his approval rating in Havana fell from close to 100% in January to approaching 0% in September, the greatest and most rapid unofficial decline ever for an American president.
In 2010, House Resolution 4645 was written to end trade and travel restrictions against Cuba. Republican Senators Byron Dorgan (North Dakota) and Mike Enzi (Wyoming) supported lifting the ban, and claimed that at least 60 other senators of both parties would have voted for it. Some of us got involved in a “write your Congressman” campaign. I contacted my congressman at the time—the very conservative Tom McClintock (R). He emailed me that he was completely in favor of ending the embargo. To make a long story short, HR 4645 languished for half a year, then died in committee, so that there never was any type of full vote by either the House or the Senate. I later learned that this whole process was predictable. It was contrived to act like rational considerations were being debated, but the bill would inevitably fail to move beyond committee..
Fast forward to 2012: Almost half the Cuban-Americans in greater Miami voted for President Obama, and presumably just about every one of them wanted the embargo to end. Many, many others who didn’t vote for him still wanted the embargo ended. So even among Cuban-Americans, polls have confirmed that a substantial majority of them want the embargo halted. (I have yet to find one under 40 years old in Miami who is in favor of the embargo.) There is simply no majority constituency anywhere (even in Miami) who supports the embargo, yet it continues. The reasons are complex, but “follow the money” is a good plan to try to understand this complicated situation. Don’t forget that it is our beloved Congress, with less than 10% approval, who created and modified the complex, confusing, and vague regulations regarding Cuban travel. In my opinion, these regulations have nothing to do with U.S. national security, and everything to do with “vote-trading.” (Congressman: “You vote for my bridge to nowhere in my home state and I’ll vote for your embargo of Cuba, although I’m not sure I could find it on a map.”) Please remember—just like the IRS code—these laws were created by a completely dysfunctional and corrupt congress (both parties). It is not the fault of OFAC (Department of Treasury) or the IRS, who have been assigned the responsibility for enforcing these extensive, sometimes bizarre, and often contradictory regulations.
Americans can still legally visit Cuba, but so many simply don’t understand this. My goal is to inform them and encourage them to visit one of the world’s friendliest, safest, and most beautiful countries. I can only take a small number with me every year, so I will continue to encourage Americans to travel there in a way most comfortable for them—either as individuals or in organized groups.