Last week, we reported on Governor Rick Scott’s decision to sign legislation to stop Florida’s municipalities and state agencies from doing business with companies that have dealings with Syria and – the intended target – Cuba. At the time, we called him “cynical” for signing legislation that is probably unconstitutional and bad for business and the economy of his state just to score points with hardliners in the Cuban American community. It turns out we gave him far too much credit.
On Tuesday, Scott signed the bill at a ceremony staged at the Freedom Tower in Miami to impress the hardliners who sponsored and supported the legislation most strongly. But immediately after the event, he issued a letter indicating the law might be unconstitutional. Scott didn’t utter a word about his doubts or about his letter while the signing ceremony was taking place. The Miami Herald said that “No governor in recent memory has signed a law and then called it unenforceable in his bill signing.” His cheering section felt blind-sided and betrayed. Congressman David Rivera threatened to sue Governor Scott. Cowed by controversy, Scott doubled back, promising to enforce the law.
What was he thinking?
Scott’s office issued a statement that got close to the truth: “After consulting with all interested parties and thoroughly weighing all sides of this issue, Governor Scott signed House Bill 959 into law on May 1, 2012.” He didn’t just weigh all sides; he adopted virtually every position imaginable on the law before buckling under the weight of a P.R. stunt gone bad.
Moving from the farcical to the tragic, let us briefly take up the promising signs coming from Cuba that Cuban citizens might soon enjoy greater freedoms to travel from and return to the island, and the Cuba Transition Project’s puzzling, even dour, reaction to this news.
Cuba maintains a complicated and costly set of rules that prevent the Cuban people from leaving or returning to the island without their government’s permission. Cuban citizens are vocal and plain-spoken in their desire to travel freely without having to apply for exit visa, the carta blanca, requests which are often denied. These restrictions are condemned annually by the U.S. State Department and organizations like Human Rights Watch.
As the Associated Press is now reporting, “Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to lift many travel restrictions.” Some travel controls could be scrapped – cutting the fees to apply for the exit visa, ending limits on how long Cubans can live abroad, and increasing the number of Cubans allowed to travel abroad for work. According to AP, the U.S. State Department “would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public.” The news agency quotes a shop worker in Cuba saying “It’s absurd that as a Cuban I must get permission to leave my country, and even worse that I need permission to come back.”
You might well expect the scholars at the Cuba Transition Project, which calls itself “an important and timely project to study and make recommendations for the reconstruction of Cuba once the post-Castro transition begins in earnest,” to regard these reforms as important and, if not timely, certainly long overdue.
Well, instead, they seem quite miffed, very concerned, and surprisingly negative about the whole thing. In a broadside titled “Is Cuba Planning a Legal Mariel?” Jaime Suchlicki, the Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami, worries that:
- Cubans will line up in front of foreign embassies to request tourist visas and that the U.S. Interests Section – since most Cubans want to visit the United States – would be most impacted;
- Airlines will benefit financially from Cubans who fill their seats in flights away from Cuba;
- It might make Cubans on the island happy(!) because the reform will eliminate one of their major complaints;
- It’s all a secret plot by President Raúl Castro to relieve internal pressure on the island because so many Cubans will want to come to the United States.
But Dr. Suchlicki has a plan to foil the plot. Tighten the number of visas the U.S. can give Cubans to visit here. Stop Cuban Americans from traveling to Cuba (and giving money to their relatives who might want to make reciprocal visits). And reduce the presence of U.S. diplomats in Cuba so fewer personnel can process an increased number of visas requests.
Why would he suggest such measures? Because, perhaps, if Cuba’s reforms take place and Cubans can travel freely to the U.S. and elsewhere, the only government restricting its citizens from traveling to Cuba will be ours. He seems to be saying, forget the liberty interests of average Cubans; Dr. Suchlicki just doesn’t want us to be embarrassed.
For more on this week in Cuba news, CLICK HERE.
(c) 2012 Center for Democracy in the Americas. All rights reserved.