Ask Yoani Sanchez

Many members of Congress support legislation calling for changes in U.S. law to allow free travel by all Americans to Cuba. The measure parallels an earlier decision made by the Obama Administration to remove travel restrictions for most Cuban-Americans.

The chief assumption behind the bill is that an influx of U.S. visitors will moderate Cuban hostility to the U.S. and democratic practices and open the door to the give-and-take of a free society.

News from Cuba that prominent dissident and courageous blogger Yoani Sanchez, unofficial spokesperson for a generation of disillusioned Cubans, was briefly abducted by Cuban secret police and beaten on November 6 is cause for concern.

The beating of an individual as prominent as Ms. Sanchez ought to give pause to those in Congress anxious to send American tourists into harms way, where the Cuban secret police roam freely dispensing rough justice with complete impunity.

“No blood, but black and blues, punches, pulled hairs, blows to the head, kidneys, knee and chest,” Sanchez reported after she and Orlando Luis Pardo were released by the secret police. “In sum,” she concluded, “professional violence.”

Ms. Sanchez and her companion were on their way to participate in a small, peaceful demonstration gathering urging an end to violence in Cuba and abroad.
Via the skillful use of blogs describing the grim reality of life in Cuba under communism, Ms. Sanchez has garnered prestigious journalism prizes, most recently the Maria Moors Cabot award given by Columbia University. The Cuban government denied Ms. Sanchez permission to travel to New York to receive the award.

Shortly before the incident, Ms. Sanchez described present conditions in Cuba. “We Cubans are like small children who must ask for Father’s permission to leave the house. And, in the case of the little girl Yoani Sánchez, well, the personal and social price I’ve had to pay for posting my views of my reality on a web page has been, simply, to be condemned to immobility, to have become an immobile pilgrim on this island.”

In targeting Ms. Sanchez, the Castro government sent a clear message: no dissident regardless of their international media profile is truly free to question their totalitarian system.

Certainly Congress has the power to change the laws so Americans can travel to Cuba, but can they make Cuba safer or freer? Or will the promised U.S. tourist bonanza just help the Cuban regime buy more police cars, hire more secret police, and tighten the noose of repression that encircles the necks of the Cuban people?