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President Obama campaigned with the promise to ease the ban on U.S. nationals travelling to Cuba and to engage in a dialogue with the Cuban government without “preconditions.” In March 2009, the Obama administration announced a roll-back of the restrictions on family-related travel and, several months later, the Department of Treasury promulgated new regulations. The changes stop short of lifting the travel ban in its entirety, leaving in place the restrictions on general travel to Cuba.
The United Nations has condemned the U.S. embargo of Cuba for 18 consecutive years. Independent government reports have criticized the amount of resources devoted to enforcement of the embargo and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted that U.S. policy toward Cuba has “failed.”
Today, most countries have diplomatic relations with Cuba, and only the United States prohibits its nationals from travelling to the island nation. U.S. nationals are not prohibited from visiting any other country, including those that are subject to other U.S. sanctions regimes—for example, North Korea, Iran or Sudan. There is increased public support, including among Cuban-Americans, for lifting the travel restrictions entirely and allowing travel to Cuba for all. The Cuba travel ban is a relic of unsuccessful Cold War policy kept alive by electoral considerations and not rational foreign policy or national security concerns. The Obama administration should lift the travel ban entirely and annul the penalties previously imposed against individuals as part of the travel ban.
Since 1997, CCR has worked to rescind the travel restrictions enforced as part of the embargo and has represented over 425 individuals accused of violating the travel ban. CCR publishes Know Before You Go: A Guide for Travelling to Cuba, and is challenging the procedures by which the Department of Treasury investigates suspected travel to Cuba in our case, Sanders v. Szubin. More information is available on our Cuba Travel Project webpage.