The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday, April 15:

U.S. immigration officers no longer blink when they see “China” stamped on a U.S. passport. Or “Russia.” Or “Vietnam.” Americans are free to travel to places once a long way from the United States, and not just in miles.
But Cuba, just a brief airline hop or a fast speedboat ride from Miami, might as well be on the moon. For 50 years, Fidel Castro’s “worker’s paradise” has been kept distant and politically hostile not only by Fidel, but by Cuban exiles in South Florida who can’t forgive what he did to their homeland.
But that Cold War attitude finally may be undergoing a long-overdue thaw.
Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Barack Obama on Monday removed Bush administration restrictions that limited Cuban-Americans to one family visit to Cuba every three years and capped how much money they could send to relatives there. The action restored travel regulations in effect during the Clinton administration.
Obama correctly concluded that Cuban-Americans, with one foot in each nation, are the best ambassadors to stoke freedoms denied to the Cuban people. This was a measured step but no giant leap. The U.S. trade embargo remains intact and travel to Cuba for most Americans continues to be prohibited. Congress should act to lift the trade embargo and sanctions against violators imposed under the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.
The Cuban bloqueo has been in force since 1961, when President John F. Kennedy declared it shortly before the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion failed to overthrow Castro.
At 82 and in poor health, “The Bearded One” is a diminished force. His brother, Raul, was elected president last year. The Castro regime has institutionalized socialized poverty and cultural isolation among the 11 million Cubans, particularly since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, the regime’s chief benefactor.
In other nations, despite differences over human rights and democratic freedoms, the United States has discovered that openness begets more openness. But anti-Castro hardliners in Florida —who have grown to be a powerful political force in a key primary state — have helped keep Cuba isolated.
As Fidel and his opponents have grown older, support for the embargo has faded. But life for average Cubans remains a daily struggle. For decades, anti-Castro leaders argued that any infusion of U.S. dollars would bolster the repressive government and tighten the Communist hold. But the blockade changed nothing.
Increased travel and money transfers will not create regime change in Cuba. But they are key openings that could lead to future democratic freedoms similar to those in other closed societies. The direct integration of Cuban-American life is more powerful than radio diatribes beamed from Miami to Havana via Radio Marti.
Some hard-liners — among them Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. — remain resolutely opposed to any changes. That means further policy changes to Cuba, however inevitable, will be gradual.
But Cuba’s well-educated and literate population remains an enticing market for business and free-trade advocates, including Midwest agriculture interests. They continue to press for broader trade and travel freedoms for all Americans and American products.
The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, now pending in Congress, would make comprehensive changes and prohibit any president from restricting travel to Cuba for all Americans.
Allowing Cuban families to reunite is a humane gesture. It also symbolizes a shift of U.S. policy from isolationism to engagement. But the 90-mile journey can’t stop there; the Obama administration must act boldly and lift the Cuban trade embargo.


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