“If such cyclical travel increases, there are opportunities and dangers for both countries — opportunity in the sense that those going back may have the resources to start businesses in Cuba; danger in the sense that the returnees could be sources of dissatisfaction and change,’’ said Robert Pastor, an international relations professor at American University and national security advisor for Latin America during the Carter administration.
Looking back to events such as the Camarioca boatlift in 1965, the Mariel boatlift and the rafter exodus in 1994 when tens of thousands of Cubans fled the island, Pastor said, “immigration has always been not only a way to release pressure in Cuba but also an instrument pointed at the United States to put this country in a defensive position.’’
Some analysts say Cuba may hope its new travel stance will pressure the United States to liberalize its own travel policy toward the island as well as take another look at the Cuban Adjustment Act. In addition to Cuban Americans, the United States permits only limited categories of other Americans to visit Cuba, such as those on people-to-people exchanges or for specific purposes such as humanitarian missions or academic trips. Travel for tourism is prohibited.
The Cuban Adjustment Act may well come up during the expected debate on immigration reform in the United States, said Sweig. “There is a good amount of resentment among other Hispanics over the Cuban migrant preference,’’ she said. “If we can create a safe, legal, regular way for undocumented people to stay here, the Cuban carve-out may stand out in a more glaring way.’’
Cuba’s new travel policy comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of Cubans have traveled to the island in recent years and attitudes toward travel are shifting.
For some Cuban exiles in South Florida, the memories are too bitter and too many years have passed for them to personally consider visiting Cuba, but they say that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t go.
“For those of us who arrived here in the early days of exile and are now entering into the third age, Cuba will always be an inconsolable memory,’’ said Felipe Fernandez, a 78-year-old attorney in Miami. “However, I understand that those who were born and grew under socialism may like to go back and forth; in a very real sense, that is their country.”
Rather than limiting travel, Fernandez thinks the U.S. should lift its restrictions: “At this point, I believe that anyone who wants to visit Cuba should be entitled to go. Let’s just hope that Americans who visit Cuba are alert enough to perceive that underneath the prepared welcome mat for visitors lies one of the most repressive and totalitarian governments on earth.’’
But other longtime exiles say they have mixed feelings about freer travel for all Americans.
“On the one hand, I believe strongly in the freedom that our system of government affords us and as such I’m against any travel restrictions for our citizens,’’ said Jose Gomez, 65, a Miami retiree who left Cuba when he was 13. “However, I personally object to providing this dictatorship with the currency it seeks from American tourists.’’
This article includes some comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with The Miami Herald. Sign up by going to MiamiHerald.com/Insight.