Cuba Shouldn't Be Off Limits to Ex-Prez
Former U.S. President would like to travel to Havana but cannot do it freely.
Despite his international stature, he is required to
ask for Washington's okay.
The reason: A longstanding trade embargo against Cuba that
includes a travel prohibition.
"The whole idea that a former President — or any American
citizen — has to get permission to travel to Cuba or any country is
absolutely ridiculous," said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem).
The ex-President in question is Jimmy Carter, who last month was
invited to visit the island by Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He has
spoken out for increasing trade and visits to Cuba.
"That's the best way to bring about change and not to punish the
Cuban people themselves by imposing an embargo on them,"
Carter has said.
His proposed visit comes at a time when the White House and
Congress are growing farther apart in policy related to Cuba.
President Bush wants harsher policies, while in Congress there are
increasing moves to ease trade sanctions and restrictions on travel.
"You know, 34 members of Congress, both Democrat and
Republican, have formed a group of friends of Cuba," Rangel said.
"It is our people's nature to trade, to travel and we want to be able
to sell food, send money, travel freely."
Even more ridiculous than Carter's having to ask for permission is
the Bush administration's attitude: They are studying Carter's
request, they say.
They probably want to be sure that Fidel Castro — that bearded
devil — is not going to brainwash good old Carter. Rangel does
not think it is funny.
"It is insulting," he said. "What do they fear? That Americans are
so stupid, so gullible that we are going to succumb to
And added Rangel: "If anything, Castro is the one who should be
afraid of us going there."
Obviously, he is not.
"We want him [Carter] to see our country, not so that he supports
us or anything like that, indeed so that he may make all the
criticisms he wants," Castro said in a recent speech, referring to
the White House pressures on Carter to use the trip to chastise
Havana over human rights.
Yet according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, the
Treasury Department, which issues permits for Cuba travel, is still
considering Carter's request. It's embarrassing.
Why, you are probably asking yourself, can't Americans go to
Cuba but there are no restrictions against traveling to North
Korea, Vietnam, China and the former USSR?
"It's all politics," Rangel said. "It all has to do with Florida and the
Keep in mind that President Bush's brother, Jeb, the Florida
governor, is up for reelection. And that he will do his best not to
antagonize the hardliners among Florida's Cuban-American
Travel's Up Anyway
Which is too bad because the four-decade blockade, as the
embargo is called in Cuba, has done nothing to change the
Communist system and much to punish ordinary Cubans. It should
have been lifted many years ago.
Despite the travel ban, though, an increasing number of Americans
have been exercising their right to travel freely by going to Cuba.
More than 60,000 went through third countries last year, violating
"After decades of condemning the Iron Curtain regimes for
refusing to permit their citizens to travel freely abroad," budget
travel guru Arthur Frommer has said, "our government now claims
the power to do the very same thing."
Even to a former President.