Friday, April 17, 2009 Head Writes to the President

Dear President Obama,

Today you made great strides in breaking the tension between Cuba and America. Allowing
unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to their family in Cuba is a great first step, and I commend the efforts. Now it's time to focus on giving full travel freedom back to all American's.

My son is 8 years-old and loves baseball more than most things in his young life. Among other topics, baseball is something that we share through many different media. Not a day goes by when we don't discuss players, strategy, or the history of the game.

Last year, when he heard that a group of Little League players from New England were given the opportunity to travel to Cuba and play with kids there, he was so excited because he was sure that he would be afforded the same opportunity. I researched what it took the players from Vermont and New Hampshire to secure the trip and was stunned to find out that 20 months had passed from first request to final permission. Twenty months of bureaucracy so boys could play baseball together.

I usually have an easy time explaining complex topics with my kids, but I was at a loss how to explain this. How do you explain decades-old geo-political tensions that have absolutely no impact on an 8-year-old in 2009? I barely understand it and I'm 41. But, I did the best I could and you know what he said to me after my paltry explanation? "Dad, are the kids who play baseball in Cuba bad people, too?" With all due respect Mr. President, I question whether this is the lesson we want to teach our children.

I understand that the situation is much more complex and that some of Cuba's policies are counter to U.S. ideals. I also fully acknowledge that my motives are selfish and foreign relations experience limited. But, with all of the other international issues facing our country, does this little island nation really deserve our isolationist policy? Several elected officials are echoing growing public sentiment by questioning our hard-line policies. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) said the other day that "we have to remember that every country in Latin America, 15 countries, have normal relations with Cuba. ... We're the country which is isolated."

If it provides any impetus at all, there is a sharp increase in U.S. interest in traveling to Cuba. I looked up Google searches for "travel to Cuba" and they show a 70 percent increase in searches recently. This highlights the interest that has grown with the possibility of leisure travel to Cuba from the U.S. People in the U.S. want to travel to Cuba for the right reasons. I want to travel to Cuba to help my kids learn and grow as caring, understanding people. The travel industry itself needs this boost during these tough economic times.

Cuba is rich in history and has played an interesting role in the world. It also has some of the most beautiful beaches and friendliest people in the world (or so I am told). Yes, it has inflicted its share of pain and suffering, but what nation hasn't? In my son's eyes, he just wants to play baseball with a group of kids that he has heard love the game as much as he does. In my eyes, I want to share the unique experiences with my family that only come from travel to a foreign land. I want my kids to be open to differences in culture, religion, politics, whatever. I am trying to teach the importance of acceptance to my kids and I hope they choose this path. Why should we expect anything less from our elected leaders?

Mr. President, you ran a campaign based on inclusiveness. You had a very large tent and asked people from all faiths, beliefs, political parties, and even nationalities to join the movement for change. Our policy on leisure travel to Cuba seems to be opposite those ideals. It is time to change tactics on our relationship with Cuba and give American's the freedom to travel there.

Baseball connects people. Being a Boston Red Sox fan, I have seen multi-generations embrace and share the sport. Travel also connects people. It helps shrink the world and bring people together. I think I speak for many others in the same situation when I ask that we be allowed to share these experiences with our kids before life takes them on divergent paths. It is the right lesson to teach both Cuban and American children. It is the lesson I try hard to instill every single day. It is simply the right thing to do.

--Carl Schwartz, Chief Travel Officer,

No comments: