Commentary: Policy toward Cuba creates a new mess

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

Congress took a step toward improving U.S. policy on Cuba last week, which is good, but lawmakers sure went about it in a sneaky way. The substance of the change will be welcomed by most exile families who want to visit their relatives on the island more often. However, the legislative maneuvering that produced the change allows members of Congress to hide their political intent behind the veil of process. The result is contrived and confusing, a half-baked Cuba policy that demands clarification.

Instead of tackling Cuba policy head-on, the legislation approved by Congress last week prohibits the enforcement of the old travel standards imposed by President George W. Bush in 2004, which restricted family visits to once every three years. The change ordered by Congress left the old policy on the books but prohibited the Treasury Department from enforcing the law. This is a way of legalizing an activity that – according to the letter of the law – is unlawful. This is subterfuge, not policy.

The upshot, by week's end, was that the Treasury Department was obliged to issue new guidelines disavowing the 2004 Bush standard. The new rules allow yearly trips by Cuban Americans, with the possibility of traveling again during the same year on a case-by-case basis.

This is a more humane standard that improves on the old rules, which did nothing to advance the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba but produced a lot of misery and pain in the Cuban exile community. Toughening the rules, as Mr. Bush did in 2004, was a political gesture signaling his sympathy with hard-liners, but there was no noticeable effect on the Cuban government. It did little to weaken the grip of the Castro brothers on the Cuban people.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.