Is it unethical for Americans to visit Cuba?

Market WatchRecently, I took one of the first commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba to spend a week in Havana and Cienfuegos, taking in the sights and sounds of a country relatively few Americans had been able to explore over the past 50 years because of an American trade embargo.

I reveled in the experience of a place unlike any other I’d seen, with amazing waterfalls and beaches, beautiful, brightly-painted homes and friendly residents eager to speak to us, many of whom had never met Americans before. But while I treasured the trip — the knowledge I gained, the people I met and the country’s colorful cars, cigars, music, happy people and mojitos — I also saw up close an undercurrent of sadness I couldn’t quite shake, making it difficult now to answer other Americans asking me if they should visit, too.

This disquieting reality reared its head when our government-approved tour guide told us Cubans are very happy, have plenty of food and access to internet, and have old cars because “it’s a point of pride” there to collect them (not because there is a longstanding trade embargo preventing them from getting new vehicles). It was evident when a friend I met there, an emerging musician, showed me music videos he made that existed only on his computer; he was unable to upload and share them without reliable access to the internet. The same friend later told me to speak quietly when passing government officials because he feared he would get in trouble for talking to tourists without a license. One day, I stood with locals in Havana at an underground internet hot spot provided by a black market Wi-Fi dealer at a lower price than the government’s access points, who fled on a motorcycle when the police arrived. The oppressive atmosphere was impossible to ignore when I offhandedly told people I met to visit me in New York sometime, and watched them shake their heads, “No,” one said. “I will never get off this island.” (Going to the U.S. as a Cuban is costly and requires a difficult approval process)…

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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