Our Cuba policy is outdated and counterproductive
By Bill Hellman, USN/SEAL (Ret)
America’s often changing policy on travel to Cuba makes very little sense when you consider our trade and travel rules with other countries who have obvious human rights and political issues contrary to American values and laws. Our current policy went into effect mid- year in 2019 and places restrictions on cruise ship, private yacht and private and commercial aircraft travel to Cuba by American citizens. It has also restricted what is known as people to people interaction and participation in amateur athletic events such as gymnastics, soccer, baseball and sailing regattas.
Reasons cited for the new the policy include Cuba’s ongoing destabilization of the Western Hemisphere and support of countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua. This seems like a very weak generalization coming from a country with the greatest military in the world. Cuba’s ability to project power with their own Navy or Air Force is an obvious non-issue and their meager global political influence should hardly be a concern for American politicians who seem quite content to spend every waking minute fighting amongst themselves. Perhaps if Cuba had nuclear weapons and an unstable dictator, or valuable resources such as oil the situation might warrant some attention, but they don’t. Cuba is nothing more than a political irritation..
There are obviously many Cuban citizens who hold America in high regard. While walking around Havana it is quite common to see Cubans young and old wearing hats and shirts imprinted with American Flags. As a retired Combat Veteran I don’t care what argument or example is used to support our Cuban policy. If we are restricting American tourists from spending money on trinkets, beer and hotel rooms to make a political point then we should immediately stop pretending we care about human suffering. Whether the dollar amount generated by American tourism in Cuba is measured in the millions or hundreds of millions the money spent by tourists saves and enhances human lives.
It seems to me the best way to influence a country in a non-violent manner is to ignore the government and foster a positive relationship with the citizens through people to people interaction and amateur athletics. In this case where the Government in question is not threatening military action and clearly lacks the organic ability to carry out any successful military operation against an oppressor our restrictive travel policy seems heavy-handed and quite frankly un-American. It’s time to stop the Cold War politics with Cuba and stop making policy based on what might garner the most votes in the election cycle.
The Revolution was terrible, and the consequences were grave for all Cubans particularly those who rejected Socialism. But how do we classify the consequences of Americas march to the Pacific? How were the reservations any better than political prisons?
Let’s be better Americans and stop pretending we are advancing Democracy by barring US Citizens from visiting Cuba. The best way to see the consequences of a failed Socialist/Communist society is through your own eyes. The best way to foster a better relationship with Cuba is through personal interaction.
Sailing regattas from South Florida draw hundreds of participants from all over America and church groups from every State have organized trips that promote good will and help the poorest citizens of Cuba. If more Americans were able to see firsthand what it’s like to live under a restrictive Socialist/Communist regime they might begin to appreciate our Constitution and Laws that exist to protect human rights. Americas youth might be swayed from embracing such flawed political ideas.
Helping the oppressed any way we can including by something as simple as tourism does not mean we are weak. It does not say we support oppressive policies it just says we are better human beings. It’s time to stop the Cuban insanity.
Let’s revise the current policy and allow Americans to visit Cuba with common sense rules of conduct that aren’t made up of ambiguous political jargon. Let’s befriend their citizens before a country we can’t negotiate with sees the strategic value in doing so. People to people interaction and amateur athletic events promote peace! Perhaps one day two young people who become friends on the soccer field or at a church function in Havana will grow up to become the leaders of our two nations. Perhaps then the hatchet will finally and forever be buried between Cuba and the United States.
We need a more moderate and modern approach to our Cuban policy. It’s time for our Government to reject the past and approach the Cuban situation with common sense and a policy that is commensurate with the threat.
Bill Hellman is a Retired Naval Warrant Officer who spent his entire career in SEAL Team. He is currently working as a Technical Advisor to a New York based company. He is a native of Montana and graduated from Lincoln High School in Tacoma Washington. His first novel, Fly Girl, was the co-winner of the 2018 Indie Book Awards Action Adventure of the Year. He is married to Sali Gear. She is a former Navy pilot, current commercial airline pilot and operator of Island Dog Rescue. In their limited spare time they enjoy sailing and traveling.