Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, agrees. "I support engagement with Cuba,
because I think it is the best way to effect democratic change in Cuba," he said.
Senator Max Baucus (D) Montana
Senator Baucus, who visited Cuba last month, argues the travel restrictions
play into the hands of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Speaking at a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Senator
Baucus, who is not a member of the panel, said there are indications that the
arrest and imprisonment of 75 Cuban dissidents last March was prompted by the
Cuban government's fears about contacts between dissidents and Americans. The
Senator said "if the Cuban government fears contact between the American and
Cuban people, the answer is to send more Americans, not fewer."
But opponents of easing the four-decades-old travel embargo say changing
U.S. policy now would amount to rewarding Fidel Castro's government for the
crackdown on the dissidents.
One such opponent is Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who also traveled
to Cuba last month. He is especially disturbed about the plight of dissidents,
who have endured decades of imprisonment. "Those people are still sitting there
for 20, 25 years. It would not be conscionable to support getting rid of the
travel ban right now," he said.
Current law does allow some travel to Cuba by Americans, particularly scholars
and journalists. The Bush administration says about 200-thousand Americans
visit Cuba legally each year.
But tens-of-thousands of Americans, estimated by some news reports, visit
Cuba in violation of the travel ban each year. The initiative announced by
Mr. Bush Friday would crack down on such illegal travel.
The administration says it is opposed to any effort to increase American
tourism to Cuba.
Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega told the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee recently that Cuba's military would benefit from an easing of U.S.
travel restrictions. He said the Cuban military controls 65 percent of Cuba's
hotel rooms, and would use the proceeds to suppress dissent. He said a majority
of Cuba's tourist hotels are in isolated enclaves, where ordinary Cubans are
not authorized to go.
"Tourism travel raises grave doubts, because it is funneling resources directly
to the repressive apparatus of the state, and the impact on the Cuban people
themselves, and the interaction with the Cuban people, is actually fairly minimal," he
Many in the Cuban-American community in Florida have long pressed the Bush
administration to take a tougher approach to the government in Havana. Florida
could be a crucial state for Mr. Bush's re-election bid next year.