Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rep. Fudge: Let Americans travel to Cuba

Last weekend, on WVIZ's Feagler & Friends, I got to debate U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge's trip to Cuba. She went to Havana as part of a Congressional Black Caucus delegation and said U.S.-Cuba relations ought to improve.

Most of the commentary I've read about this trip had an old-time Cold War feel to it: The Black Caucus is soft on Commies! -- that kind of thing. But this week, Raul Castro, Hillary Clinton and President Obama all said they want to start a new era of serious talks and better relations. Now, Cleveland's newest congressperson looks like she was ahead of the curve.

Yes, I agree our representatives should bring up human rights and political prisoners when they visit undemocratic countries. Yes, smoking a cigar with Cuban president Raul Castro seems kind of decadent (unless you think of it as a peace pipe).

But let's not just criticize the theatrics of the visit. Fudge brings up a serious issue (check out her letter to the Plain Dealer): She's co-sponsored a bill to repeal the law that makes it illegal for most Americans to travel to Cuba.

Because Cuba is a neighbor, 90 miles from Florida, and a Cold-War flashpoint that made both the right and the left froth at the mouth, and because anti-Castro Cuban exiles form a voting bloc in a swing state, Americans live with a double standard: we can travel to Communist China and Communist Vietnam, but we can't spend a dime in Communist Cuba.

"Open or free travel encourages the free exchange of ideas, which has been known to silently tear down walls, both literally and figuratively," Fudge said in a a statement last week.

Here's Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times arguing for lifting the travel ban, an article from Foreign Policy that says we shouldn't, and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, who's reported from Cuba 10 times, saying we should lift the ban but not trust Cuba.

What's it like to visit Cuba? Here's a vivid story Jesse Tinsley wrote about Havana for the Plain Dealer last year.

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