By: Sean Convie
Junior Associate, Pace International Law Review
In the latest step in a march towards increased engagement between the United States and Cuba, President Obama is planning to relax travel restrictions to Cuba for academic, religious, and cultural groups.
Previously, President Obama lifted restrictions allowing Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to the island. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that America was, “moving the ball forward.” However, Clinton cautioned that the Obama administration would need to see further evidence that Cuba would be responsive to political and economic change. In response, President Raul Castro released 52 political prisoners who had been jailed by his brother and former president, Fidel Castro. It was Castro’s move to release these political dissidents that has encouraged Washington to possibly ease travel restrictions further. The move would expand opportunities for American academic, religious, and cultural groups traveling to Cuba while leaving intact the 48-year-old embargo against the island’s communist regime.
The proposed relaxation of the travel restrictions has been criticized. Cuban-American Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey contends that, “this is not the time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime.” Menendez insisted that promoting travel would give the Castro brothers, “a much needed infusion of dollars that will only extend their reign of oppression.”
In contrast, supporters of the relaxed travel restrictions argue that the trade embargo, imposed to remove the communist government, has been a failure. Also, supporters contend that opening Cuba to Americans will help to encourage democratic discussion within Cuba. Furthermore, supporters argue that easing travel restrictions is about the constitutional right of United States citizens to travel freely. Finally, backers of increased engagement with Cuba stress the economic cost of the embargo to American companies.
Perhaps the next step in the march of engagement between the United States and Cuba will be dialogue with a view to ending the 48-year-old embargo!