Cuba and the United States are not the closest of allies. There was that whole Cuban Missile Crisis thing during the Cold War. More recently, in 1996, the Cuban military felt it necessary to shoot down two of our planes. The U.S. developed five different plans for assassination of Fidel Castro between 1961 and 1963 and has been trying to bring down Cuba’s communist government ever since.
Relations are not good. However, Raul Castro’s recent push for negotiations with the United States brings U.S.-Cuba relations back to the forefront of American politics. Arguments about the merits and shortcomings of U.S. policy in regard to Cuba would do well to recognize the price that American citizens have had to pay for this tension. Aside from economic disadvantages, the current state of affairs violates a constitutionally-backed freedom to travel.
In 1963, a Cuban travel ban was found constitutional for national security reasons. By 1979, Cuba was no longer considered a matter of national security and the ban was no longer constitutional. It was lifted. This should be the end of the story. In fact, seeing as Cuba and the U.S. are only 228 miles from one another, young Cuban children and young American children should be frolicking in fields of wildflowers together, hand in hand. This is not the case. There is still a ban. How, you may ask, is this possible? Government manipulation of constitutionally-protected individual rights. That’s how it’s possible.
You see, traveling to Cuba gives the rogue country hard currency with which to maintain their evil communist ways. This is not acceptable. No, to prevent the evils of communism from existing in our world and to facilitate a transition to democracy, the American people must sacrifice their right to international travel. Yeah. If there was ever any doubt, let me just clarify that not approving of a country’s form of governance is not a good enough reason to strip American citizens of their constitutional rights. Unless the records have been altered (in which case we have larger problems than even I imagined), in Aptheker v. State, 378 U.S. 500 (1964), the Supreme Court declared a ban to socialist nations unconstitutional.
This brings us to the current ban. If a travel ban to Cuba is unconstitutional, then how is the government getting away with it? (This is where the blatant manipulation of constitutionally-protected individual rights comes in.) Under current regulations, the government does not have a Cuban travel ban. No, no, they have simply banned spending money in Cuba. I see it now, I get off the plane in Cuba, go to buy a soda - denied! Try to check into a hotel - denied! Food - denied! I imagine it’s difficult to travel to a country where spending money is banned. Innovative, freedom-loving citizens used to be able to get around this by accepting fully hosted trips to Cuba, so that they would not be providing the government with hard currency. In response, 1994 saw new legislation with which the government banned American citizens from accepting free trips to Cuba.
Evidently, the issue is about travel and not hard currency. The only people exempt from this policy are citizens who have immediate family in Cuba. Even they are only allowed to visit once every three years. But, no worries, one visit every three years is surely enough time to get to know your children.
Our benevolent leaders use legitimate laws to strip us of a right that is constitutionally guaranteed without technically violating the constitution. The fact that the government has taken it upon itself to be the keeper instead of the voice of the people should greatly concern all American citizens. Hopefully, a change in Cuban leadership will result in better U.S.-Cuba relations and more freedom for all parties involved. Otherwise, I am confident that this is one issue that will continue to ignite outrage in Republicans and Democrats alike. Given time, they will surely join hands to storm the White House as brothers, demanding an end to this ban.
Erin Wildrmuth is a senior in the School of International Service and a libertarian columnist for The Eagle.