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Statement to US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Lifting the Travel Ban to Cuba

Committee Hearing on “Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba?”

Washington, DC

Chairman Howard L. Berman
U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman,

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on convening this timely and critically important hearing of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on the US travel ban to Cuba. Human Rights Watch fully supports the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act introduced in both the Senate (S. 428) and the House of Representatives (H. 874) to abolish restrictions on travel to Cuba. We believe lifting the travel ban represents an essential step towards ending a US policy that has failed for decades to have any impact whatsoever on improving human rights in Cuba. 

Today, Human Rights Watch released a new report on human rights in Cuba. The report concludes that rather than dismantle Cuba's repressive machinery, Raul Castro has kept it firmly in place and fully active. Scores of political prisoners arrested under Fidel Castro continue to languish in Cuba's prisons, and Raul Castro's government has used draconian laws and sham trials to incarcerate scores more who have dared to exercise their fundamental freedoms. The Raul Castro government has relied in particular on a "dangerousness" provision of the Criminal Code that allows authorities to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the suspicion that they might commit an offense in the future.

Efforts by the US government to press for change by imposing a sweeping ban on trade and travel have proven to be a costly and misguided failure. The embargo imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole and has done nothing to improve the situation of human rights in Cuba. Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington's potential allies.

There is no question: the Cuban government bears full and exclusive responsibility for the abuses it commits. However, so long as the embargo remains in place, the Castro government will continue to manipulate US policy to cast itself as a Latin American David standing up to a US Goliath, a role it exploits skillfully.

Ending the travel ban is a step in the right direction toward reforming this failed policy, and Congress should act swiftly to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

However, lifting the travel ban by itself will not bring an end to the Raul Castro government's repression. As a result, Human Rights Watch recommends that the US government replace its failed embargo policy with a more effective, multilateral approach. Our report lays out a proposal for the United States to work with allies in the European Union, Canada, and Latin America to forge a new coalition that will exert targeted pressure on the Raul Castro government to release all political prisoners.

Please share this statement with members of your committee. In addition, I would be very grateful if you would include this letter in the record of your hearing.


José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director, Americas Division
Human Rights Watch

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