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Friday, June 24, 2011

United States Cuba Policy: Cuba Travel? You Are Not Serious

It has been about two months since I last posted. However, with yesterday’s news that the House Appropriations Committee voted to reverse the Obama Cuba Travel Regulations back to the insane Bush ones, serious attention must be paid to politics now with good news and bad news. First the bad news. In the interim since the new Obama travel regulations came out, the blogosphere and social networks responded happily to the morsel that was given and then wondered “why is OFAC taking so long and being so slow on licenses?” “Why can’t President Obama just lift all the travel restrictions?” Now that the House Appropriations Committee voted to reverse the travel regulations, the reaction has been, “the hardliners just made 400,000 enemies”.

Oh really? How will the pro-travel community ever demonstrate that when it does not organize itself and express itself politically through the only thing that matters in politics and in Washington DC – votes and money? The Congressmen who voted for that measure in Committee know two things about U.S. Cuba policy. First, there is a real constituency who wants to strengthen the travel restrictions and keep the embargo. Second and most importantly, they vote AND they make contributions to candidates who think just like they do. Kudos go to the embargo PAC. Now how does this operate in the mind of a Congressman? Let’s consider for a moment that you are Congressman X. On one side you have a constituency that approaches you and tells you “hey, we want to keep the embargo in place and we do not want travel restrictions to Cuba lifted. We vote and by the way here is a check to your campaign because we want Congressmen who will stand with us. Be part of freedom and democracy, blah blah blah. We have also helped elect six pro-embargo Cuban American members of Congress and we have the Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee with us too. “ On the other side you hear from people who call, email, and visit your office and tell you how positive it will be to open travel to Cuba for all Americans, that we need to end a foreign policy failure, and that we need to unite Cubans and their families. And after that presentation you hear “Thanks Congressman X”. Now which side of the issue is more serious? Which side is more committed to their position on the issue? This is how Washington DC works folks.

To make the proposition of supporting travel restrictions no sweat for the misguided Congressmen who support these insane restrictions, there is no political downside for them. There is no competition in their districts who will organize against him/her or raise money for his/her opponent next November. Being for travel restrictions and the embargo is actually safe political bet to play if you are a member of Congress right now. Money creates perception.

Then disaster strikes like this past Thursday and pro-travel supporters go into reactive panic mode. The grassroots pro-travel side says, “what are we going to do?”, “We don’t have money. “ “I don’t have even $25 to put up and contribute to a political action committee that will support candidates who will support changing our insane Cuba policies once and for all.” “I will not support this or that group.” “I don’t like this person or that person, so I won’t get involved.” “I want to do things differently.” “Nonprofits cannot get political.” – Which is true. But every each and every individual who works for a think tank or a nonprofit who is a U.S. citizen or legal resident can make a political contribution and can be political. “What good will my $25 do?” Ask President Obama from the 2008 campaign or Michele Bachmann now (see today’s AP Newstory “Small Checks Drive Michele Bachmann's Big Bucks”) , what the power and the difference lots of little contributions can make over a few fat ones. You see the pro-embargo side relies on a small group of wealthy hardline Cuban Americans for their political money. We have thousands more than they do. We are just not organized, yet.

What will happen when lets say the 29,000 plus people who say they “like” the End the Cuba Travel Ban on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/endthetravelban actually backed that up with a contribution of $25 to a political action committee like the U.S. Cuba Now Political Action Committee, www.uscubanowpac.com ? Or the 400,000 Americans and residents traveling to Cuba legally actually donated $5 to a political action committee that supports ending the travel ban? Now we’re talking serious political money. Everyone in Congress or running for Congress will know about this issue and who is really committed. “Who is going to get this money?” Candidates like Jeff Flake (R-Az) running for the U.S. Senate, who is needed there to stand up to Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) so he can stand up to Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera and Ileana Ros Lehtinen. And others who stand for this issue because they believe in it. They need our help or they won’t be more of them in the next Congress. There will be more like Diaz Balart and Ros Lehtinen. A political message needs to be sent to these embargo stalwarts by contributing to the candidates running against them.

The pro-travel side got slapped in the face on Thursday in the only arena where this issue really matters now, in the Congress. You see it is going to take more than just phone calls, emails and just being reactive in order to change U.S. Cuba policy.

Here are the eight rules that when followed will change U.S. Cuba policy once and for all. There are no exceptions to these rules. They were not made up by me, but by the very nature of our political system.

1) It will require an Act of Congress to lift the travel ban for all Americans.
2) It will require an Act of Congress to end the embargo on Cuba.
3) The President of the United States does not have the power on his own to do this. Congress took it away from the Executive with the Helms Burton Act. It must be restored to the Executive Branch.
4) In order to get an Act of Congress, it requires passage in the Senate and House of Representatives. To get a measure passed in either body, it requires two things; political action and lobbying.
5) Lobbying without political action is ineffective.
6) Political action makes lobbying real.
7) Contributing to a political candidate, regardless of the amount indicates commitment to the candidate and the cause you represent.
8) Transformation does not tolerate mediocrity.

The bad news is the pro-travel side of U.S. Cuba policy does not follow the rules. The pro-embargo side has followed the rules unchallenged by the opposition and now has much to show for its efforts. You are for travel to Cuba for all Americans? You can’t be serious. Prove it. We do not speak with one united voice. We are not political. At least, not yet. You can change that right now. Are you registered to vote? Are your friends registered to vote? If you are Cuban and a legal resident of the United States and have family on the island, do you qualify for U.S. citizenship now, so you can register and vote? Become a U.S. citizen. And most importantly if you really do want to change U.S. Cuba policy, get your checkbook or credit card out and go online and make a contribution to U.S. Cuba Now. Today.

Now here is the good news. There are more of us than there are of them. It is time to prove it in votes and money. What happened in the House Appropriations committee can and will likely be stopped. Only if you choose to finally get serious on this issue, follow all the rules of the political game, and play to win.

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