South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
Is the prosecution of a pair of Catholic missionaries for a one-week trip to Cuba really the best way to promote democracy in Cuba?
The couple in the hot seat are Michael and Andrea McCarthy from Port Huron. In 2001, the pair traveled to Cuba, handing out medicines, praying with nuns, offering rides to folks in need, and spending at least a bit of their time on vacation.
Through their charity and aid, the McCarthys conducted some worthwhile diplomacy and generated good will toward Americans. Most people would consider that a good thing, but the United States government doesn’t think so.
The couple are now facing the wrath of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which regulates and enforces myriad rules restricting travel to Cuba. OFAC is after the McCarthys, saying they shouldn’t have been vacationing in Cuba, and shouldn’t have gone there without a license in the first place.
So, the McCarthys face a $9,750 fine on top of the $2,000 they have already spent on legal bills. Put together, those sums are almost 10 times the amount of money the couple spent on the island.
The Bush administration should stop for a second and ask whether punishing these missionaries advances the cause of democracy on the Communist island. In fact, all Americans should ask themselves the same question.
The McCarthys brought aid to people, not a government. And in doing so, they put a caring and helpful face on a country that has been absent from the Cuban landscape for too long.
Just exactly how is what the McCarthys did a bad thing? Did they violate the rules requiring a license before traveling to Cuba? If a hearing officer finds that’s the case, then fine them a reasonable sum and let it go.
A penalty into the four-digit range is unreasonable, and that the McCarthys’ case may be a precursor to more travel crackdowns is irrational.
The U.S. government should focus on what really matters. Despite the release of a few dissidents recently, the Cuban government is still holding dozens of other civil rights activists in jail for crimes that amount to little more than publicly calling for individual freedoms and economic reforms on the island.
The dissidents must be freed, and it should be the goal of the Bush administration to help prod their freedom.
Energy and time spent excessively punishing Americans who have traveled to Cuba is a distraction, and it sends the wrong message. Freedom, including the right to travel, is a good thing. And it should apply to Americans, as well as to Cubans.