Travel Pulse: Human Rights Groups Condemn Any Cuba Rollback

Travel Pulse

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Recent polls from Engage Cuba and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) have established that a majority of Americans support open travel to Cuba.

However, with President Donald Trump expected to announce Friday a reversal of Obama-era policies that eased travel and trade restrictions with the island nation, another key group is speaking out in opposition.

Leading human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) have denounced a potential rollback of current U.S. policy.

The consensus is notable in that opponents of open travel to Cuba have singled out human rights conditions on the island as the primary reason to change course.

"The previous administration was right to reject a policy that hurt ordinary Cubans and did nothing to advance human rights," said Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. "The fact that Obama’s approach hasn’t led to political reform in Cuba after just a few years isn’t reason to return to a policy that proved a costly failure over many decades."

"The Trump administration is taking exactly the wrong approach if it really wants to spur improvements in the human rights climate in Cuba. This reversal is fundamentally misguided," WOLA Senior Associate for Cuba Marguerite Jimenez said in a statement.

Human rights experts concede that the Cuban government can do better to improve conditions for its people but are adamant travel plays a pivotal role in producing positive change.

"Anything that restricts these type of engagements from happening is going to hurt civil society in Cuba and in the U.S. and our ability to truly understand what's going on on the ground," said Engage Cuba President James Williams on a conference call Wednesday.

"We know the difficulties with the Cuban media on being able to report some things and this is why we are pushing for more and more Americans there, more smartphones and greater command of Internet so these things can be more visible to as many people as possible."

Amnesty International echoed that sentiment in its own statement:

"Despite criticisms, increasing travel to Cuba not only fosters tourism, it serves as a glimpse into what everyday Cubans go through. More travel, more communications’ access, and more dialogue with Cuba are the way forward for human rights in Cuba."

In addition to the human rights factor, U.S. government officials have addressed the security benefits of opening up travel to and trade with Cuba.

"A good relationship with Cuba, our neighbor, is imperative for our national security," said Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer during Wednesday's conference call.

"Regardless of what announcement is made on Friday, we are going to make clear that this is going to be the Republican approach going forward. We're going to continue to advocate through the White House and through the national security team why it's so important," added Emmer.

Compounding threats to national security and human rights, the financial impact of closing off Cuba to Americans could potentially be devastating to the travel and tourism sector.

Research from Engage Cuba estimates that a reversal of current policy could set the U.S. economy back by as much as $6.6 billion and jeopardize nearly 12,300 American jobs over the course of the Trump administration's first term. A majority of that impact would be felt by the airline and cruise line industries.