Barack Obama’s administration announced Friday that it will start easing travel restrictions to Cuba, allowing all U.S. airports with appropriate customs and immigration capabilities to offer flights to the island – no longer just New York, Los Angeles and Miami – in addition to allowing travel by student and religious groups, as well as journalists.
The decision is expected to have a significant impact on the greater Tampa Bay region and Tampa International Airport in particular, as the St. Petersburg-Lakeland-Tampa areas boast 74,109 Cuban Americans, according to U.S. Census figures. The area is also home to thousands of college students attending USF, the University of Tampa, St. Petersburg College and other local institutions, all of whom will no longer have to drive to Miami to travel to Cuba.
The move is certainly in the best interest of many Americans and Cubans alike, as it also allows for greater financial support to non-government-affiliated Cuban citizens. It should be taken further to allow free travel to Cuba by all American citizens.
Yet the changes have drawn criticism from U.S. political leaders,such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Both argue against these and any future changes that allow for greater travel or a lifting of the 60-year embargo because the Cuban government doesn’t offer the same political and social rights to its citizens as the U.S does.
For opponents of the Cuban government, including Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, this reason alone may validate a travel ban.
However, the travel restrictions are unfair to other Americans, who are prevented from enjoying a Cuban vacation because enemies of the island government hold more U.S. political influence than the enemies of other repressive government regimes.
Americans can freely travel to China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Belarus or Morocco, yet all are listed among the most oppressive nations in the world, according to a 2009 study by Freedom House, an independent organization that supports democracy worldwide.
Indeed, Americans are allowed to travel all over the world, but their right to travel to one of their closest neighbors is held captive by a combination of aging Cold War ideologies and the vengeance of a small group who seemingly only find fault with this particular nation’s lack of freedoms.
The Obama administration’s efforts reveal a possible willingness to move towards eliminating this obvious double standard. This would allow greater personal freedoms for Americans, who may not approve of a limitation of their own rights, to continually persuade another nation to grant citizens theirs.