The Administration of President Barack Obama is pushing hard for the normalization of economic and cultural ties with Cuba, a long-time official adversary of the United States since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. The latest news, reported in the Wall Street Journal, easing restrictions on air travel to Cuba for Americans, is, in many ways, more impactful than the opening of a new U.S. embassy in Havana. But an important question remains: what happens after they land?
Presently, an American travelling to Cuba is largely restricted to the whims of an official government-approved guide, with reasonable exceptions. In practical terms, an official guide makes sense. For instance, Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) for Cubans and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) for tourists. An official guide can help an American traveler quickly understand the distinction, along with other practical reasons, like currency exchange rates and locations, taxi services, etc. However, travelling freely in Cuba, an American could stop and ask a rural farmer why he’s spreading rice on a country road to dry, instead of selling his crop. He could freely ask why Cuban baseball players continue to risk life-and-limb to flee Cuba, or he could more freely ask his waiter at a paladar what type of free enterprise restrictions are cumbersome to business expansion and private enterprise. It would certainly expand American cultural awareness if travel guides within Cuba didn’t have to go through rigorous government processes.
Allowing Americans to travel freely within Cuba will definitely lead to positive change, there is no doubt. Freedom of ideas and freedom of commerce will change Cuba and, in the process, change the United States.