Thursday, April 12, 2007

My Comments on Miami Travel Arrests

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Associated Press reported on February 23d that, "two men were arrested and charged with using fake religious organizations to get thousands of people permission to travel to Cuba". The Florida case alleges that some 6500 persons made illegal trips. Most are presumed to have been Cuban American.

U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, is quoted in the Miami Herald as confirming the political goal of the prosecution: ''Vigorous enforcement of economic sanctions against the Cuban regime is important to help hasten a transition to democracy on the island.''

According to the AP, “Acosta wouldn't say if his office had specific plans to bring charges against the travel agencies or the thousands of people who traveled using the licenses. ‘We start here, but that doesn't mean we end here,’ Acosta said.”

The arrests are the first criminal prosecution of travel violations by the Cuban Sanctions Enforcement Task Force. It was formed in October, leading to suspicion that this was but another Bush Administration pre-election goodie for its Miami supporters. One reason for creation of the Task Force may be that the civil sanctions process of the Office of Foreign Assets Control has become little more than a threat to induce out of court settlements. Administrative Law hearings in Washington have apparently ground to a halt, due to the case load and readiness of victims to defend their rights.

Without speaking to the guilt or motives of the two men charged, the case illustrates how hard it is for the Administration to enforce a policy that violates widely held beliefs in human rights. As with the prohibition of alcohol and illegal immigration, entrepreneurs inevitably offer ways around regulations that defy values and common sense.

In principle, one prefers energy be channeled to changing unjust laws or to public acts of civil disobedience such as ended racial segregation. In practice, average people find ways to cope in order to maintain family ties. The numbers involved give their action political significance.

Antonio Zamora told the Cuba Summit conference in Newark last fall that tighter travel restrictions were imposed for two reasons. Wide scale visits by Cuban Americans (and by diverse main stream groups) were undermining the political message of the hard liners and were generating profits for travel agents and charter flight providers who used them to campaign to end all restrictions.

The distortion of priorities of the legal system to enforce the political agenda of a small anachronistic interest group is another reminder of how the country as a whole will benefit when Congress ends travel restrictions.

John McAuliff 2/25/07

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