New York Daily News
April 4, 2002

Cuba Shouldn't Be  Off Limits to Ex-Prez

                   Albor Ruiz

                   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
                   communism?"

                   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
                   elections there."

                   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
                   community.

                   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
                   U.S. laws.

                   "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.

                                            E-mail: aruiz@edit.nydailynews.com