Senator Michael B. Enzi
July 15, 2003
Thank you for coming here today to join us for the Freedom to Travel To Cuba Forum. It is good to see all of you. We appreciate your taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us for what we believe will be an interesting and very informative session.
Today's Forum will showcase our current travel policy with Cuba, how it will be changing, and how those policies have and will continue to affect the people of the United States and Cuba. Most importantly, this forum will provide us with a chance to discuss whether our policies are producing the results we want both domestically and as a matter of international policy. Then we will talk about how to make our present policies better.
After we finish our discussion, we will release you for the afternoon so you can visit your representatives and express your concerns to them. This is the part of the program we call "putting feet to your prayers." Although it is important to have this forum and discuss this issue and our strategy for changing current policy, it is at least equally important that we take the next step and make our representatives aware of the importance of this issue to each and every one of us.
We have all heard our form of government called a participatory democracy. That means that we all get a chance to take part by expressing our views and making our concerns known to those who represent us on the local, state and national level. It's a vital part of the process and the truth is – our system of government doesn't really work very well unless we all take part in it on each and every level – from our neighborhood commissions on up.
I know I'm preaching to the choir on this one, but I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate your being here and your willingness to take the time to make your views known on this issue to the people who need to hear from you – your elected Members of Congress.
We have an excellent panel of speakers today and they will be taking an in-depth look at travel to Cuba on several different levels.
One way we might look at our current policy with Cuba is best summed up in the words my father used to share with his children when we were growing up.
"Michael," he would say, "If you keep on doing what you have always been doing then you are going to wind up getting what you have already got."
Nowhere is this more true in our foreign policy than it is with Cuba.
It's a recurring theme, one we have seen again and again over the years. Whenever Castro does something cold hearted and cruel to the people of his country – like imprisoning those who speak out against the government or punishing those who try to escape to the freedom of the United States – we take strong action to tighten the already tough restrictions that separate our countries in the form of trade, or communication or in this case, travel. We increase the pressure on the Cuban government and hope that this time will be different and a better outcome will be achieved from a tougher policy.
Unfortunately, far from achieving a different result – once again we find ourselves as Dad would say, "with more of what we already got."
The more pressure we put on Cuba, the harsher conditions become in that country. The harsher life in Cuba becomes, the more we get blamed for the living conditions of a country that is rich in despair and poor in hope for a better future.
All we're saying today is – it's time for a change. We've seen the future that this current path will lead us to and we think the time has come to try something else.
It's time we put together the great minds of our country – like those on our panels today – and came up with another approach to this problem. We really have nothing to lose but the failures of the past and everything to gain from trying a different road – like a free, peaceful and prosperous Cuba. It's a great goal but we won't get there unless we're willing to change our policy and then continue to fine tune our strategy along the way.
We began our call for change with the introduction of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act in April. In the weeks that led up to the bill's introduction, 75 Cuban citizens were arrested and received harsh sentences, some for more than 20 years – all for the crime of yearning to be free and trying to escape the cruel dictatorship of Fidel Castro.
We were immediately confronted by those who continue to believe the best way to meet force is with even greater force – of a diplomatic kind. Unfortunately, as we have seen, the only thing such a stern policy does is to promote even greater misery among the people of Cuba and increase their distrust of America as a friend.
There has to be another way to deal with the dictator of Cuba that punishes him for his cruelty and disregard of human rights – not the Cuban people.
Today, together, we are taking an important step forward to increase the hope the people of Cuba will someday feel for their future by encouraging the continued exchanges of people, culture and ideas between the people of the United States and Cuba.
Someday, history will look back on this period and ask what we did to try to change the policies that failed in the past.
How we answer will make a big difference in how history and future generations of Americans and Cubans will remember us.
We can make the changes we know must be made to remove Castro's use of American politics as his scapegoat for why his people live in poverty and despair.
Or, we can continue the policies we already have in place.
Then again, it just doesn't make sense to do the same thing over and over again and expect that this time, things will be different.
Things won't be any different unless we make them different.
Thanks again for being with us here today to take another step in this journey that will someday make for a better relationship between the people of Cuba and the freedom loving people of the United States.