Shaking Down American Travelers to Cuba

Why does our government want to prevent us from seeing and learning about what is happening in Cuba? It says its purpose is to deny hard currency to Cubans so that they will change the way they have organized their society. If so, it’s the first time in history we’ve been forced to sacrifice one of our fundamental freedoms in order to implement a foreign policy objective.

From the beginning American courts have recognized and protected our right to travel to and in countries at peace with us, and our Supreme Court has repeatedly held this is part of the liberty we can’t be deprived of without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. Moreover, because travel often involves learning and exchange of ideas, our First Amendment rights of speech and association are also implicated. As former justice William O. Douglas once observed, “Freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society, setting us apart…it often makes all other rights meaningful.”

In spite of this, in 1982 the Reagan Administration promulgated administrative regulations regarding Cuba travel which require a license issued by the State Department (permitting only certain limited types of travel, excluding business and tourist) and penalties for violation of concurrent Treasury Department currency restrictions forbidding the unlicensed spending of money. In a 5-4 decision in 1984, Regan v. Wald, our Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of these restrictions on the basis of the State Department’s assertion that Cuba had the economic, political and military backing of the Soviet Union, therefore the rights of citizens were overcome by national security needs. In other words due process was not violated because we were not “at peace” with Cuba.

In the 1990s when the Soviet Union no longer existed and our Defense Department had certified that Cuba posed no security risk, the restrictions were not being enforced, it being clear that no judge would uphold them. Nevertheless, they remained on the books because our presidents lacked the political will to terminate them and our State Department was using them to try to frighten Americans out of going to Cuba. In 2000 they were codified by a legally questionable maneuver in House-Senate Conference Committee on an unrelated bill. Each year the number of unlicensed American visitors increased, and the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council has estimated that last year there were over 100,000.

Whether codified or not, the restrictions are unconstitutional and therefore invalid because the Cold War is over. Most Cuba travelers who are aware of the legalities know they can avoid problems by refusing to pay and filing a hearing request within the required 30 days of receiving a penalty notice, which will send the matter into perpetual legal abeyance because our government doesn’t want a court decision. The restrictions have been used to harass (but not prosecute) those our government deems politically incorrect. Union leaders and students attending conferences in Cuba have on return been held for hours in airports for interrogation by customs agents. Los Angeles guitarist Ry Cooder, who made a movie in Havana tending to promote friendship between the two countries (“Buena Vista Social Club”), was issued a $25,000 penalty notice.

The worst aspect of the present situation is the shaking down of unwary Cuba travelers by a government which knows that if a fine is contested there will be no prosecution. The theoretical fine for unlicensed spending is $250,000, the fine on paper but not practice is $55,000, the typical fine is $7,500, however Treasury accepts down to $700 in “voluntary settlement.” Treasury has been refusing to make public its records but a 2001 NY Transfer report by Jon Hillson indicates that Treasury told him that while they had then taken in almost $2,000,000 in settlements from the 379 Cuba travelers who were frightened enough to pay voluntarily, it had never taken anyone to court.

There have been bills pending in Congress for at least five years to repeal various aspects of the Cuba embargo, including the travel restrictions (see proposed “Bridges to Cuban People Act”). However under the rules a few powerful men called “party leaders” get to decide what and when matters are voted on, and no votes have been allowed on the merits, just on the yearly Bush Administration budget requests for enforcement money.

Our Congress responds primarily to campaign contributions and powerful lobbies. The Cuban people have neither. Nevertheless two weeks ago the House voted for the third successive year to deny enforcement money for the travel restrictions, and this will come up in the Senate soon. If Americans can travel freely to Cuba, they will learn for themselves what is really going on there, rather than having to rely on the inaccurate official propaganda. If this happens, hopefully the entire embargo will be relegated to the place where it belongs — the dustbin of history.

TOM CRUMPACKER is with the Miami Coalition to End the US Embargo of Cuba. He can be reached at: Crump8@aol.com


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South