Commentary: Tourism won't change Cuba's government

I'm not opposed to the growing push in Washington, D.C., to liberalize U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba, but the stated reason behind the move – that a flood of U.S. tourists will bring democracy to the island – is wishful thinking.

Last week, more than 20 key senators – including the Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairman, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. – introduced a bill that would allow Americans to visit the island freely. The bill was backed by a diverse coalition, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Human Rights Watch.

Meantime, there is growing speculation in Washington that President Barack Obama will announce new initiatives to relax the travel ban to Cuba before the April 17 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Obama, meeting a campaign promise, last month scrapped some restrictions on family travel and remittances imposed by the Bush administration.

But claims that a broader easing of U.S. travel to Cuba would accelerate a political opening on the island are highly misleading.

"Tourism has not brought down a totalitarian regime anywhere in history," says James Cason, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, who heads the Washington–based Center for a Free Cuba advocacy group. "No study of Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union alleges that tourism had anything to do with the end of communism. Radio Free Europe did."

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