Communist Party for Spring Break?

Thawing U.S-Cuba relations loosen travel restrictions

For the better part of 50 years, a jetliner’s cruising altitude of 36,000 feet has been the closest distance that many Americans have legally come to our tiny socialist island neighbor to the south, Cuba. A recent decision by the Obama administration will bring the country that is known for its rum, cigars, and rumba music that much closer to regaining contact with its giant neighbor to the North.

The new policy focuses on reforming purposeful travel, non-family remittances, and licensed charter flights flying between the US and Havana. The purpose of these new measures is to support “civil society” and increase the flow of people-to-people contact and information between Cuban and American citizens, according to the White House Blog.

“Any people-to-people contact will improve relations, better understandings and will take us away from the cold-war era paradigm; the binary of good and evil,” said Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of Latin American History and Chicano Studies at Pomona College. “It’s high time that we leave the Cold War aside and stop allowing a small group to high-jack US foreign policy.”

The new measure reinstates Clinton-era people-to-people exchange policies suspended by the Bush Administration. Under the Clinton-era policies, academic exchange programs and travel were allowed. Roderic Camp, a Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College who has traveled to Cuba as a scholar within the past ten years, is personally acquainted with the difficulties of obtaining American permission to travel to Cuba. “Even though the law basically said they would make exceptions, for example for scholars, they made it so difficult and so unpredictable, even waiting until the day before you were supposed to go to tell you if it was approved that…they were purposely discouraging people from [traveling to Cuba].”

While American tourism is still illegal under the new policies, it has not stopped many from traveling to Cuba through second party countries. It is estimated that upwards of 100,000 American citizens have purchased tickets to Cuba at least once in Canada or Mexico, where it is legal to do so under their respective laws. Illegal American travel to Cuba has become so extensive in recent years it has prompted the U.S. State Department to modify its immigration form for Americans returning from foreign countries. The new form now asks travelers if they have traveled to countries other than the country from which they are returning, Camp said.

Many hope that these new measures are indicators of more normalized U.S.-Cuba relations in the future. Others, however, see the policy as simply bipartisan politics. “Obama’s decisions really did not have any political cost…and were even supported by the Cuban Americans living in Miami, who have historically been manipulated to block initiatives,” said Tinker Salas. “The Florida vote is always key and it is unfortunate to always see US foreign policy towards Cuba high-jacked [during elections]; it really puts the U.S. at odds with Latin America and with the rest of the world.”

Yet the questions of the effectiveness of the fifty-year old trade embargo and the U.S.’s closed-doors foreign policy still remain. “The U.S. now has relations with Vietnam, countries with which it fought wars,” said Tinker Salas. “Yet a country 90 miles off of our coast, recognized by every country except by the U.S., still does not have diplomatic relations with us.”

The advantages of lifting the trade embargo for both countries are undeniable. An important trading partner with the United States before the embargo, Cuba contains abundant reserves of nickel, timber, and oil. Additionally, the Cuban market has the potential to become a very lucrative trading partner for certain U.S. agro-export sectors. Instead, Cuba is forced to turn to Europe and Latin America for trade. “Cuba’s beaches are being enjoyed by the French, Germans, Canadians, and Mexicans; not by Americans because of the embargo. It is counterproductive for both countries,” said Tinker Salas.

This outlook was echoed by Camp. “It seems to me that in the history of the United States, U.S. relations with countries in which we had cut off diplomatic relations have produced far less positive results in the long term than when we have opened them up.”

For the majority of Americans, the new policy may seem like a baby step towards normalized US-Cuba relations, but it could have a more immediate impact for students. The new changes have led Pomona College to rethink its study abroad program in Cuba organized under the Clinton administration but subsequently suspended under the Bush administration.

“A country such as Cuba that has been cut off from the U.S. for so long has an adventurous appeal to it,” says CMC freshman Lorien Giles. “I would definitely be down for going.”

Hailing from the great state of Wisconsin (he has never met a brat he didn't like), Sam is Editor Emeritus. He enjoys cheese curds that squeak, his Pandora disco and 80's pop radio stations and anyone who can recite the exact depth of Lake Baikal from memory. He is a dual major in Chemistry and International Relations.

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