Saturday, June 12, 2010

51.Cuban Dissidents Cheer Bill to End U.S. Travel Ban

For the past 48 year, the U.S. government has denied the constitutional right of the American people to freely travel to Cuba.  While it is not formally a travel ban,  Americans are barred from spending money in Cuba unless the government (Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of Treasury) approves of their travel plan.  In effect, a small number of Americans each year receive OFAC approval to visit Cuba.  The large majority of non-Cuban Americans have to visit the island risking government harassment (currently, Cuban Americans are exempted from the travel ban).   The central argument presented for this restrictive policy is that the monies spend by U.S. visitors will aid "the communist enemy" that denies human rights to its people. So, it is highly interesting that 74 Cuban dissidents signed a letter that cheers a bill in U.S. Congress that will let Americans to visit Cuba freely and to expand U.S. food exports to the island.  KN

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By WILL WEISSERT (AP, June 10, 2010) 

HAVANA — Seventy-four Cuban opposition activists — including the island's best-known blogger and a hunger striker who has garnered worldwide attention — signed a letter Thursday cheering proposed legislation that would lift the U.S. travel ban to their country.
The a statement addressed to the U.S. Congress supports a bill to let Americans visit Cuba freely and expand U.S. food exports to the island.
"We share the opinion that the isolation of the people of Cuba benefits the most inflexible interests of its government, while any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society," the letter said.
It was released by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington-based group that advocates freer travel and trade with Cuba.
Signers include blogger Yoani Sanchez and hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, as well as Elizardo Sanchez, head of Cuba's most prominent human rights group.
It applauds a proposal introduced on Feb. 23 by Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, that would bar the president from prohibiting travel to Cuba or blocking transactions required to make such trips. It also would bar the White House from stopping direct transfers between U.S. and Cuban banks. That would make it easier for the island's government to pay for U.S. exports.
While travel to Cuba is technically not illegal, U.S. law bars most Americans from spending money here. Cuban-Americans, journalists, politicians and a few others can visit with special permission from the U.S. government. Washington's 48-year-old embargo chokes off nearly all trade between the U.S. and Cuba — though cash-up-front sale of U.S. food and farm products to the island has been allowed for the past decade.
Peterson's bill must pass the House Committee on Agriculture before it can go to a vote by the full House.
A string of similar measures to expand travel to and trade with Cuba have died without reaching a full vote by either the House or Senate in recent years, but it is unusual for so many prominent Cuban dissidents to join in supporting a single piece of U.S. legislation.
Cuba's government offered no comment. It routinely dismisses activists who criticize the country's single-party government as paid agents of Washington out to undermine the communist system.
Sanchez's blog, "Generacion Y," uses caustic, often witty posts to describe life in Cuba. In November, President Barack Obama took the unusual step of providing written answers to questions she submitted to the White House.
Farinas stopped eating and drinking after the death of jailed hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo on Feb. 23. He is not imprisoned but has received nutrients since then through a tube at his home in central Cuba.
Other signers included Miriam Leiva, a founding member of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, a support group for wives and mothers of 75 opposition activists jailed during a government crackdown on organized dissent in March 2003. Her husband, dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, also signed the letter, as did Juan Juan Almeida Garcia, whose father fought alongside Fidel Castro during Cuba's 1959 revolution and rose to the rank of vice president before his death last year.

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