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How a Hardline Lobby Is Blocking Closer Relations Between Cuba and America

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This week, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim between the island nation of Cuba and the southern state of Florida without a protective cage, wowing the world. "It's all authentic. It's a great story. You have a dream 35 years ago -- doesn't come to fruition, but you move on with life. But it's somewhere back there. Then you turn 60, and your mom just dies, and you're looking for something. And the dream comes waking out of your imagination," said sixty-four year old Nyad about her feat.

Yet as many impressed Americans stood waiting for her in Key West, Florida, most of these Americans could never stand on the shores of Havana to watch her departure. As part of an American embargo imposed in 1962, most Americans are barred from traveling to Cuba (the ban was allowed to expire by President Jimmy Carter but was re-imposed by President Ronald Reagan).

Over the years, there has been some easing of the travel ban, with President Obama allowing for greater travel by academic, religious, and cultural groups. Yet Obama has chosen to maintain the major features of frozen relations, even once saying that his previous position during his U.S. Senate campaign that the embargo should be ended was simply "eons ago."

The official explanation behind why there's a general travel ban and embargo on Cuba is that the United States is protesting Cuba's human rights record. In 2010, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) complained that normalizing trade and travel with Cuba would "enrich a regime that denies its own people basic human rights," and even took the step of saying he would filibuster legislation that changed this. But Menendez has also made a point to promote trade with China, which is by most measures at least as much of a violator of human rights as Cuba, if not a greater one. Recall that the United States has no travel ban or embargo not only on China but other major rights abusers like Saudi Arabia and Colombia. In fact, after fifty-one years of the same policy, Cuba's seen some basic reforms but no major overhaul of its political system that embargo proponents long-predicted.    


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