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Yoani Sanchez's letter to Rep. Howard Berman

Here is the essay Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez sent to Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif. Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Commitee, read excerpts from the letter at a congressional hearing Thursday on lifting the ban on travel by Americans to Cuba.

In the suitcases: A reflection on the necessary liberalization of Americans' travel to Cuba

As on any island, what comes to us from the outside has always been something that catalyzes changes and longings for renewal. I recall that at the end of the 1970's when Cuban exiles were permitted to come back to visit their families in Cuba, some of my neighbors experienced big changes in their lives, ideologically and economically. Along with the suitcases stuffed with clothing and other accessories never seen around here, arrived experiences, opinions, and questioning by our emigrants. They came back changed. What was most striking was not their jeans, their shoes that weren't patched up, or the green bills they pulled from their wallets, but rather what they told about their problems and their achievements in Miami, New York, or Atlanta.

Over the course of several decades, Cuban exiles and tourists have brought part of the information that has served to undermine the myth of the supposed "paradise" in which we live. The interchange among family and friends on both sides of the Florida Straits became a source of news of what happens outside and inside our borders. There is nothing more corrosive for a state that holds itself up as the father and savior of a nation, than the testimony of those who, in other latitudes, have greater space to realize their dreams and greater tolerance for their opinions. In the midst of a state information monopoly, the arrival of newspapers, magazines, anecdotes, and information carried in luggage by these welcome visitors comes as a balm.

Faced with no evolution of our current political and social situation, an opening of travel for Americans could bring more results in the democratization of Cuba than the indecisive performance of Raul Castro. The possible measures that the current Cuban president can implement in our reality are geared toward keeping power in his hands. A gesture that would bring about popular diplomacy - that which isn't done in protocol lounges or foreign ministries, but person to person, face to face, from the intense interaction between people - would awaken citizen consciousness, and would accelerate the sense of belonging to a world community that Cubans lack so much.

If restrictions on coming to Cuba are lifted, Americans would again enjoy a right that has been infringed in recent years - that of traveling freely to any latitude without penalty. Cuban citizens, for our part, would benefit from the injection of material resources and money that these tourists from the north would spend in alternative services networks. Without a doubt, economic autonomy would then result in ideological and political autonomy, in real empowerment. The natural cultural, historical, and family ties between both peoples could take shape without the shadow of the current regulations and prohibitions.

Eliminating these long obsolete travel restrictions would mean the end of the main elements with which official propaganda has repeatedly satanized American Administrations, and the anachronistic travel permit that we Cubans need to enter and leave our country would be even more ridiculous. Of the phrase spoken by Pope John Paul II that January 1998 in the Plaza of the Revolution - "Let Cuba open itself to the world, and let the world open itself to Cuba" - only the first part would remain to be accomplished.

I am confident that publicity campaigns can be developed to encourage American tourists to support and help Cuban citizens, to give priority to the social sector above the state sector, and to offer its hand in solidarity to people, over and above official institutions. Along with suitcases, Bermuda shorts, and sunblock, support, solidarity, and freedom could come too. Both peoples would come out winners.