Love, Loss and Longing of Cubans and Cuban Americans


Love, Loss and Longing: The Impact of U.S. Travel Policy on Cuban-American Families

By Jeanne Parr Lemkau and David L. Strug.

Latin America Working Group Education Fund & Washington Office on Latin America, 2007. Paperback, 49 pp., $20.00.

In “Love, Loss and Longing: The Impact of U.S. Travel Policy on Cuban American Families” by Jeanne Parr Lemkau and David L. Strug, a beautiful collection of photographs and first-person narratives captures the hardships inflicted on Cuban-Americans, and their relatives in Cuba, by the Bush administration’s draconian travel restrictions.

Since the late 1970s, the U.S. has permitted Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba under varying conditions. From 1995 through 2004, for example, Cubans were allowed one family visit per year without having to apply for special travel licenses. For family emergencies, travelers could apply for permission from the U.S. government’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). OFAC restrictions were not rigorously enforced, so Cuban-Americans could travel to the island pretty much at will.

In June 2004, the Bush administration bowed to pressure from hard-line Cuban exiles and imposed the harsh travel restrictions that are currently in force. The hard-liners believe the tightened rules will help bring about the collapse of socialism in Cuba. Visits are now limited to a single, two-week stay every three years. Applying for a travel license is mandatory, and humanitarian exceptions for illnesses, deaths, and other emergencies are no longer allowed.

Visits are also restricted to so-called “immediate family,” defined as parents, grandparents, siblings, and children—cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews are excluded. Immediate family is defined in a particularly cruel and ignorant way that completely disregards the structure of the Cuban family, in which aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, more distant relatives, and even close friends are often considered immediate family.

The Bush restrictions also lowered the amount Cuban-Americans can spend in Cuba. The amount for a family visit has been reduced from $167 to $50 per day. Only $300 can be taken to Cuba for distribution to relatives (it used to be $3000). Remittances cannot exceed $300 per quarter and are limited to “immediate family.” The restrictions are designed not only to limit contact between relatives but also to impose economic hardship on the Cuban people by severely limiting the amount of financial assistance they can receive from relatives in the U.S.

These rules are strictly enforced, and the result has been growing outrage and resentment in the Cuban-American community. Adult children are being prevented from visiting and caring for their aged or dying parents. Weddings and funerals are missed, and those without relatives in Cuba are denied the simple right to visit the country. Many Cuban-Americans—those whose minds have not been clouded by a hatred of socialism—do not support the restrictions. For example, Marietta, 48, is a ballet dancer and teacher who came to the U.S. at age 21 because she wanted “freedom.” In the U.S. she has worked low-wage jobs for years and has been homeless at times and is now considering moving abroad because she is tired of being denied contact with her 84-year-old father.

Roberto, 66, chafes under the government’s definition of family. “Nobody has the right to tell me who is my family and who is not,” he said.

Leandro, 42, was prevented from caring for his cancer-stricken father in his final days. And Carlos, 41, a U.S. Army combat medic and recipient of the bronze star, was turned away at the Miami airport when he tried to visit his sons in Cuba while on leave from Iraq in 2004 because he had already visited them in 2003. Carlos comments, “If I had lost my life in Iraq without being able to see my boys again, it wouldn’t have been because of the war, it would have been because my Commander in Chief wouldn’t let me see them when I was able to!”

“Love, Loss and Longing” illustrates how Bush and other right wing partisans of “family values” hypocritically separate families in the name of a failed and outdated Cuba policy. It also shows that hard-line Cuban exiles represent neither the true opinions nor best interests of Cuban-Americans.