National Security Network

Retired Military Officers Urge Ending Cuba Travel Ban

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Report 14 April 2009

International Economy International Economy Castro Cuba Embargo travel restrictions

All agree that our "current policy of isolating Cuba has failed," after 50 years "it is time to change the policy"

Yesterday, President Obama used his executive power to allow Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba as often as they like, lifted restrictions on remittances to family members, and permitted telecommunications providers to seek licensing agreements and provide services in Cuba. This was a positive first step towards a realistic and reasonable Cuba policy.

Meanwhile, a group of 12 former senior military officials sent a letter to the President urging him to go further and support and sign pending Congressional legislation that would repeal the travel ban for all Americans who wish to visit Cuba. The retired officers argue that the negative diplomatic and political consequences of the embargo also have ill effects on US national security interests. They suggest that lifting the ban would allow us to send our best ambassadors – the American people – to engage our Cuban neighbors, thus giving America a much better chance of influencing the eventual course of Cuban affairs. The letter, coordinated by the National Security Network and the New America Foundation, also suggests that our confrontational policy of isolation towards Cuba harms America's overall security objectives. The full text of the letter can be found below:

April 13, 2009

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As former senior officers of the United States armed forces, we are writing today to encourage you to support the Congressional initiatives to end the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans.

The current policy of isolating Cuba has failed, patently, to achieve our ends. Cuba ceased to be a military threat decades ago. At the same time, Cuba has intensified its global diplomatic and economic relations with nations as diverse as China, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, and members of the European Union. It is hard to characterize such global engagement as isolation.

Though economically weak, the Castro government has kept the broad support of its people by responding to economic shocks and providing universal access to health care and education. There will be no counter-revolution any time soon.

Instead, the current embargo serves more to prop up the Castro regime and shows no sign of triggering a popular uprising against the communist government it runs. When hard times fall on the Cuban people, inevitably, the Cuban government blames the U.S. “bloqueo” for the suffering. And the people, with a strong sense of national sovereignty, rally to their flag.

Even worse, the embargo has inspired a significant diplomatic movement against U.S. policy. As military professionals, we understand that America’s interests are best served when the United States is able to attract the support of other nations to our cause. When world leaders overwhelmingly cast their vote in the United Nations against the embargo and visit Havana to denounce American policy, it is time to change the policy, especially after 50 years of failure in attaining our goals.

The congressional initiative to lift the travel ban for all Americans is an important first step toward lifting the embargo, a policy more likely to bring change to Cuba. It begins to move the United States in an unambiguous direction toward the kind of policy—based on principled engagement and proportional and discriminate action that was the hallmark of your presidential campaign. Combined with renewed engagement with Havana on key security issues such as narcotics trafficking, immigration, airspace and Caribbean security, we believe the U.S. will be on a path to rid ourselves of the dysfunctional policy your administration has inherited.

It is a clear cut case. During the Cold War, the U.S. encouraged Americans to travel to the Soviet bloc resulting in more information, more contact, and more freedom for captive peoples, and ultimately the end of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War itself. This idea of engagement underlies our current policies toward Iran, Syria and North Korea all much graver concerns to the United States – where Americans are currently free to travel. By sending our best ambassadors—the American people—to engage their Cuban neighbors, we have a much better chance of influencing the eventual course of Cuban affairs. Broader economic engagement with the island through additional commercial and people-to-people contacts will in time promote a more pluralist and open society. And, by actually striking down an element of the embargo, that signal will be sent to the government in Havana.

Mr. President, around the world, leaders are calling for a real policy shift that delivers on the hope you inspired in your campaign. Cuba offers the lowest-hanging fruit for such a shift and would be a move that would register deeply in the minds of our partners and competitors around the world.


/s Brigadier General John Adams (Ret.)

/s Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw (Ret.)

/s Lieutenant General Daniel W. Christman (Ret.)

/s Major General Paul D. Eaton (Ret.)

/s Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard (Ret.)

/s Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter (Ret.)

/s General James T. Hill (Ret.)

/s Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Ret.)

/s Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy (Ret.)

/s General Barry R. McCaffrey (Ret.)

/s Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (Ret.)

/s General Johnnie E. Wilson (Ret.)


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