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New Bill on Cuba Vital to Advance Democracy, End Stalemate
A new Senate bill that would remove the ban on American citizen travel to Cuba would be an important contribution to U.S. policy to promote democratic reform in Havana.
"This bill is in no way meant to reward Cuba's regime, rather it is a necessary strategy to advance democratic change and strengthen relationships with the Cuban people at a critical time in their country's history," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. Despite the longstanding trade embargo on Cuba, the island nation has consistently ranked among the world's worst regimes in Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World survey.
The Senate bill is scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday at a press conference featuring several high-ranking Senators including Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.); Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Freedom House advocated for the policy change in a press release in early January, prior to President Barack Obama taking office. The full text of that statement, in English and Spanish, is below:
Obama Administration Should Pursue New Approach to Promote Democracy in Cuba
Washington – January 7, 2009 – The United States should reinvigorate efforts to advance human rights and democracy in Cuba, Freedom House said today. One key element of a strengthened policy would be the lifting of U.S. legal restrictions on American citizen travel to the island.
Cuba has consistently received either the lowest or second-lowest ratings on political rights and civil liberties by Freedom House since it first began publishing the global Freedom in the World survey in 1972. Cuba’s citizens are denied most fundamental rights, including the right to elect their government, participate in political opposition, freely express their views, demonstrate, participate in trade unions, own property, travel, or access information free of government control. Since Raul Castro succeeded his brother as leader of Cuba, some nominal reforms have been announced, though their impact on the lives of Cubans remains negligible.
"Cuba remains one of the most repressive countries in the world," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. "It is well past time to reassess a policy that impedes the ability of American citizens to freely interact with Cubans on a large scale and thus expose them to unfettered information about the outside world. We call on the incoming administration of Barack Obama to reexamine the embargo and to immediately lift the restrictions on remittances and travel to and from the island."
The United States first began introducing economic sanctions against Cuba in 1960 following that government's seizure without compensation of U.S. assets on the island. Current U.S. sanctions, which strictly limit trade with Cuba to cash-only sales of U.S. farm products and medical supplies, are unique to all other U.S. sanction policies in that they also prohibit U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba unless they obtain a U.S. government waiver.
"While the Bush administration expanded American support for democracy activists in Cuba, U.S. policy would be even more effective if Americans were allowed to engage more freely with Cuban counterparts," Windsor continued. "Those countries that have moved from dictatorship to democracy in recent decades have done so in large part because of the movement of people and ideas across borders."
The United States does not impose similarly restrictive travel sanctions on Americans to other regimes that receive Freedom House’s lowest freedom ratings, including Burma, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
For more information on Cuba see:
Freedom in the World 2008: Cuba
Freedom of the Press 2008: Cuba
Change in Cuba: How Citizens View Their Country's Future
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Cuba since 1972.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.