Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cuba travel ban panel

Today I attended a forum on the Cuba travel ban held on Capitol Hill and sponsored by the Cato Institute. The event's highlight was featured speaker Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), while an unintended lowlight was walking by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as he prepared to begin a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, no doubt looking for more ways to increase government regulation and impinge on the free market.

Some notes:
  • Flake said there are 178 co-sponsors for legislation to lift the current travel ban. Flake said the bill faced a "tight vote" in the Foreign Affairs committee.
  • Flake attributed the current uphill battle for passage to a reluctance on the part of people to concede long-established positions on Cuba or anything to the other side. He also noted that $50-60 million is currently spent enforcing the travel ban here in the U.S., and there are entrenched interests which would like to see this continue.
  • Flake's message for Fidel Castro: "We plan on lifting the travel ban, and if the Cuban government doesn't shape up we'll lift the whole embargo." Flake described lifting the travel ban and economic sanctions as the real "get tough" policy in Cuba -- and he's right.
  • Ian Vasquez of the Cato Institute claimed that a majority of Cuban-Americans favor ending the embargo. (The Obama Administration earlier this year lifted the travel ban for Cuban Americans -- a very smart move) This is welcome news.
  • Vasquez opined that Raul Castro will not be able to resist calls for economic liberalization after Fidel goes to the great collective in the sky. This is because very few people in Cuba -- like China -- actually believe in communism (unlike, for example, the U.S. Congress).
  • He added that an end to the embargo is unlikely to produce huge changes in the country as Cuba is a poor country and unsafe for investment, thus businesses would likely remain wary of investment. An end to the travel ban, however, would be much more effective as it would increase interactions with Americans and would help support civil society and the informal (black market) economy.
  • The current travel ban is inconsistent with U.S. policy as no such prohibitions exist on Americans seeking to visit North Korea, Iran or Libya (when sanctions were in place on that country).
Update: Editorial from the Los Angeles Times on the Cuba sanctions here.

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