We need programs that openly engage and support the Cuban people through transparent education and cultural exchange programs, micro-lending for small entrepreneurs and lifting all restrictions that limit free travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba. The Obama administration has allowed some expansion of licensed people-to-people contact, but the travel ban — the only one the United States enforces anywhere in the world — only punishes U.S. citizens, our very best ambassadors of American values. Send more teachers, doctors, lawyers, faith-based leaders, students and, yes, even politicians to Cuba. How better to encourage free enterprise than by allowing U.S. businesses to engage Cuba?
Cuba needs to do much more to respect and protect human rights as the recent tragic death of Cuban dissident, prisoner and hunger striker Wilmar Villar demonstrates. But isolating ourselves from the Cuban people and sending people to carry out projects intended to destabilize the Cuban government have done nothing to promote political space.
This is the time for the U.S. to directly engage the Cuban government on issues of our national interest — immigration, drug interdiction, counterterrorism, human rights and the environmental concerns regarding oil drilling off Cuba’s coast. Their agenda should be on the table, too — the embargo, travel and the “regime change” programs. And we should and must talk about releasing Gross.
It is time for a more mature — and effective — policy toward Cuba. Productive engagement can do more for the values and causes we hold so dear than just more of the same.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) is a member of the Rules and Agriculture committees.