In the ongoing trend towards freer travel between the United States and Cuba, two more U.S. airports have made progress towards beginning direct service to Havana. Key West International Airport, located in Florida, has gotten the green-light from U.S. authorities, while Louis Armstrong International Airport in Louisiana, MS had received American approval months ago, but has just been cleared by Cuban authorities. The governments of both nations must approve each individual American airport’s request to begin such a route.
At this point, Washington has OKed 10 airports including Key West. This doesn’t yet mean that your average Joe Schmo with enough money for a ticket can hop on board the next plane to Havana. The U.S.-Cuban trade embargo, a relic of Cold War anti-Communist policy, still prevents that. Individuals can be cleared for travel on a case-by-case basis, and only those Americans with a legitimate personal, professional or academic reason to go are permitted to do so.
Approving more airports to begin connecting the U.S. and Cuba is a welcome step in eliminating such an outdated barrier to the free movement of peoples. It’s 2011, the Berlin Wall was smashed two decades ago and no reasonable Americans are be worried about Communist infiltration and subversion of the United States.
We’ve got a neighbor only 60 miles away from the mainland that few of us know much about, and it’s time we change that. Greater cross-cultural contact between Americans and Cubans will result in better understanding and a better relationship between the two nations. Some argue that the Cuban government still maintains a spotty human rights record, but how are we to influence them to do otherwise if we have no trade relations or regular contact between our peoples? Causing real change in Cuba is going to take soft power, handshakes and conversation, not an antiquated trade embargo.
There are economic benefits for both countries to eliminating the embargo as well. More flights from the U.S. means more jobs at American airports for support crew, construction and maintenance workers. It also means an influx of American dollars and goods into Cuba, a beautiful Caribbean island which could see a boom in its tourism sector. Interested and adventurous American travelers would flock to an open Cuba, a new destination that’s close to home, yet so very different.
And maybe, just maybe, Cubans could finally start upgrading the pre-embargo Chevys they’re so famous for maintaining in running condition.
Both nations ought to continue this trend of freer movement between them. The American government should question what the embargo actually achieves in today’s world, and the Cuban government should begin to make it easier for Americans to move about the country and purchase goods in a fair manner. The benefits are obvious for both nations.
And, on a selfish note, I really, really want to cruise around Havana in a cherry-red 1957 Chevy Bel Air. That would be totally rockin’.
Written while listening to: Heart It Races – Dr. Dog (Architecture in Helsinki cover)