Drop the Cuba Travel Embargo

| August 25, 2009

The Cuba trade embargo has become a relic of an era before barack Obama was even born.

The outspoken Arthur Frommer just blogged "It's become clear that the Obama administration isn't enforcing the Cuba travel ban." Arthur reports two different large groups of travelers openly crossed US borders, with Mexico and Canada, after publicizing they had spent their time abroad in Cuba. The groups didn't deny they were only using Canada and Mexico as buffer zones to openly sidestep the U.S. trade embargo. Neither group was detained at the borders.

Arthur reports that a group of 130 young Americans who openly entered the US via Reynosa Mexico revealed they had just been in Cuba before their return. An additional 140 travelers, who completed a two-week visit to Cuba and returned via Toronto, had their plans reported by AP News and published in the Miami Herald and Washington Post. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson, Kevin Corsaro, commented there were no government plans to detain them.

Now to be perfectly clear, there isn't a ban on travel to Cuba, there is ban on trading with our "enemies." You can go to Cuba legally, you just can't spend any money there. Also, any ship that docks in Cuba cannot dock in the United States for six months. However cruise ships already cruise to Cuba, mostly from Britain and Germany. In 2005 there were 102,000 cruise visitors to Havana. In 2007 Castro decided he didn't like cruise ships and the number was reduced to 11,000. But Fidel is now out - Raul is in.

Of course, the opening of Cuba would be a huge plus for the U.S. cruise industry. Havana was once the most popular Caribbean destination by far. The city boasted hotels, nightclubs and casinos not since equaled by the rest of the Caribbean. Furthermore, as the largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba offers plenty of potential ports of call with a variety of attractions.

But there is a difference between "no comment" and sanctioning direct cruises to Havana. Is it even fair to say that "Obama" is ignoring the ban? Yes. Every American submits a customs form upon returning to the U.S. listing the countries visited. The CBP official knew where the group had been but did not detain them. It is safe to assume the orders to ignore Americans traveling to Cuba came from the Federal government; most likely Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano who reports directly to Obama. I would really like to see if any of those customs forms listed purchases made in Cuba.

All indications are that open travel to Cuba is but a pen stroke away. There are already such bills in Congress and Obama isn't showing any objections.

Why should we drop our trade embargo with Cuba and allow cruise ships to go there? The embargo is a crusty relic of the sixties Cold War - before Obama was born! How about restoring economic stability to a downtrodden nation just 90 miles from our shore - a nation with millions of family members also living right here in the United States.

Cruising is the fastest way to promote tourism to Cuba, in fact it is currently the only workable solution. Havana no longer has those beautiful hotels and casinos, and only cruise ships have the facility to bring tourists in by day and still accommodate them at night. Havana doesn't even have many restaurants, but cruise ships do.

It would also bring a much needed benefit to American travel agents and the shareholders in cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean. 97% of Carnival Cruise Line shares are held by U.S. shareholders, for example. What's good for Carnival is good for America. Royal Caribbean has 57% U.S.-ownership and 25% European. What's good for Royal Caribbean is good for America and our friends.

So, let's make it official; Drop the trade embargo with Cuba. It is a cost-free economic stimulus program that has no downside. Isn't that the kind of thinking we need for our economy right now?

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