U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio continues to hurt Cuban-Americans, his own Florida constituents and the push for democracy in Cuba with his tired, discredited war against the communist Castro regime. His badgering of tour operators organizing legal trips to Cuba may score him points with some extremist expatriates in Miami. But it is nothing but harassment to academics, other visitors and entrepreneurs, and the Obama administration should move to break down these barriers, not build new ones.
Rubio's office took credit for holding up Senate confirmation of a top American diplomat until the administration agreed to put the tour operators through new bureaucratic hoops. A measure that took effect in May and that is now coming into force as the operators renew their annual licenses requires them to submit loads of additional paperwork about their itineraries in Cuba. This is wasteful to business and another example of the partisan games that make voters so sick of Washington.
The Obama administration has relaxed Cuba travel several times since taking office, making it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit family back home and for U.S. citizens to travel under a broad umbrella for educational, cultural and religious purposes. Rubio charges these "people-to-people" contacts are nothing but simple tourist visits, which are illegal under the 50-year-old U.S. economic embargo.
Rubio's abuse of power and the legislative process is exactly why the U.S. government should not be telling Americans where they can and cannot travel. Operators say the added red tape is forcing cancellations and causing the loss of millions of dollars. And Rubio is especially hurting his own state. Tampa's large Cuban-American population has made Tampa International Airport the No. 2 gateway for direct flights to Cuba, second only to Miami. Why should the entire state, much less the nation, be held hostage by the wrongheaded foreign policy of a senator plying the South Florida vote?
The Treasury Department, which enforces the embargo, says it is processing the licenses as quickly as possible. That belies what established operators are saying — and the agency still has too much leeway to decide who is a legitimate traveler and who is not. The administration should build on its progress on Cuba; the flights are terrifically popular (Tampa just added a fifth weekly flight) and they only whet the appetite in Cuba for similar freedoms. The embargo has been a flop and it is beyond time to move on.