While the announcement of new Cuba policy changes has been rumored for months, it looks like the President’s newly announced directive may have a significant impact on the ability of United States citizens to travel, trade or generally engage with our Cuban neighbors.
While we won’t know exactly how the Treasury Department will enforce the President’s broad directive until the regulations are drafted, it appears likely that the “People-to-People” exchanges under which many thousands of Americans visited Cuba last year will be limited by the new requirement to contract with a tourism service provider like the Vermont based CAFS Travel. As a result, Americans and Cubans alike, will once again be driven apart by US laws that are inimical to both our individual rights and our mutual national interests.
The free flow of information, ideas, art, culture and sport stemming from increased opportunities for American travel and trade will be largely closed down by the new directive – entirely based on the questionable logic that somehow eliminating these opportunities for citizen to citizen engagement is good for the Cuban people.
But the very same citizen to citizen diplomacy likely to be limited by the new rules has persuaded me that Cubans and Americans are more alike than they are different. And the idea that we can make change by disengaging or turning inward has been contradicted by every policy discussion I’ve had in Cuba - whether in a classroom with a Cuban law student - or a conversation with a street vendor in Old Havana.
In the long run, though, I’m confident that the common dreams and connections that exist between our two peoples are too deep to be discouraged by any change in US policy. On one of my most recent visits to Cuba, while negotiating the price of an avocado from a street vendor in Havana for my lunch, the vendor asked me if I was Canadian - likely because millions of Canadians visit Cuba each year.
When I responded that no, I was an “Americano” she smiled and said “aqui, todos somos Americanos” which translates as “Here, we are all Americans” – reassuring me that despite the walls we may build between us – whether political or bricks and mortar - all the people of this American Continent, from Canada to California and from Cuba to Colombia are indeed “Americans.”