Mr. Trump, we are all Americans

Sometime in the next 90 days the United States Treasury Department will promulgate new Cuba regulations based on the President’s recently signed policy directive. While the announcement of these changes has been rumored for months, it looks like the President’s directive may have a significant impact on the ability of U.S. citizens to travel, trade, or generally engage with our Cuban neighbors.

In short, the citizen’s diplomacy that has been a bright spot in U.S.-Cuba relations after nearly 60 years of U.S.-imposed isolation looks to be under threat by the policy directive President Trump announced in Miami.

What imposed regulations mean for U.S.-Cuba relations

While we won’t know exactly how the Treasury Department will enforce the President’s broad directive until the regulations are drafted, it appears likely that the “People-to-People” exchanges under which hundreds of thousands of Americans visited Cuba last year will be curtailed by the fact that travelers will now need to travel through a travel service provider. These travel service providers will be required to send an on the ground staff member to Cuba with each group to ensure compliance with the new regulations. This is likely to increase the cost of travel, reduce the number of flights and generally discourage Americans from visiting the island.

The upshot of all this is that Americans and Cubans will once again be driven apart by U.S. laws that the overwhelming majority of Americans and Cubans believe are inimical to both their individual rights and the national interests of Cuba and the United States. The free flow of information, ideas, art, culture, and sport stemming from increased opportunities for American travel and trade will be largely shut off by the President’s policy directive. And, all of this done on the questionable logic that somehow eliminating these opportunities for citizen-to-citizen engagement is good for the Cuban people.

My travels to Cuba tell a different story

Having traveled to Cuba dozens of times to engage directly with the Cuban people, I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand what Cuba is really like. I’ve salsa danced in Old Havana, visited hospitals and primary schools in Santiago to learn about Cuba’s world renowned health and educations systems, and I’ve spoken with Cuban law students about how they are changing laws to bolster small businesses struggling to grow and prosper in a highly regulated economy. Throughout all of this, I’ve been able to share with them many of the wonderful aspects and difficulties of our own country—the United States.

Ultimately, the very citizen-to-citizen diplomacy that is likely to be limited by the new rules has led me to the conclusion that we are more alike than we are different. Many of the same joys and struggles we face in this country are the same joys and struggles that Cubans experience in theirs. In my experience, the idea that we can make change by disengaging or turning inward is proven false every time I discuss policy in the classroom with a Cuban law student or have a conversation with a street vendor in Old Havana.

While the new regulations are likely to diminish these opportunities for Americans in the short term, I’m confident that the common dreams and connections that exist between our two peoples are too deep to be discouraged by the political expediency of any U.S. Administration’s Cuba policy.
I’m reminded of this as I recall a conversation I had during one of my most recent visits to Cuba. As I negotiated the price of an avocado from a street vendor in Havana for my lunch, the vendor asked me if I was Canadian—likely because millions of Canadians visit Cuba each year. When I responded that I was an “Americano” she smiled and said, “Aqui, todos somos Americanos” (“Here, we are all Americans”). She reminded me of this basic principle—that we are more alike than we are different and that despite the walls we may build between us, all the people of this American Continent, from Canada to California and from Cuba to Colombia are “Americans.”

Jared Carter is an assistant professor of law at Vermont Law School and an adjunct at The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law. He is currently teaching the Colleges of Law course “The US Cuba Embargo and the Cuba Legal System.” The course will finish with a one-week trip to Havana where students will have the opportunity to meet with lawyers, judges and law students to develop an in-depth understanding of the Cuban system and to perform a comparative analysis of the two countries approaches.