Travel to North Korea but not Cuba?

As an American, I can legally travel to North Korea but I cannot legally travel to Cuba. I’m only talking about the legality of it, not the practicality of it. The very idea of free people banning themselves from going to a certain place is ludicrous and contrary to the very idea of freedom. But the fact that I can legally go visit North Korea but I cannot legally take a boat 90 miles south of Florida and visit Cuba absolutely infuriates me just out of general principle.

“Many Americans assume that, as with Cuba, it’s the USA that restricts travel by USA citizens to the DPRK [North Korea]. In fact, the situation is exactly the opposite: since 1995, the only serious obstacle to tourism from the USA to the DPRK has been the North Korean government’s policy not to give tourist visas to citizens of the USA (or of South Korea, the “Republic of Korea”).”

(I realize that’s from 2008, but I read an article a few months ago about the surprising legality of Americans being allowed to travel to North Korea.)

How about we finally end the pointless embargo on Cuba (which only hurts American business and the cuban people as it gives the rest of the world the opportunity to invest in Cuba and clearly does nothing to get the Castros out of power) and have a full embargo on North Korea instead? I know we do have certain trade sanctions/restrictions/etc against NK, but not as all-encompassing as what we have against Cuba, and not that punishes individual, if not foolish Americans who travel there for a (likely horrible) vacation. Americans can legally travel to North Korea if they can get a visa and manage to get there. To be sure, NK is the last place in the world I’d ever want to step foot in, but Cuba might be a neat place to visit. I hate traveling so I’m not particularly eager to go to anywhere; it’s just the principle of the matter.

In terms of cruel world leaders we routinely deal with diplomatically, Fidel and Raul Castro are nowhere near as bad as any Islamic Middle Eastern ruler we hold hands, bribe, suck up to, and kiss on the cheek, i.e. the Saudis, Hamid Karzai, Mubarak (yea he was overthrown but meanwhile he was our buddy and far worse than Castro), etc. If only Cuba had oil… but Cuba has no nuclear weapons or WMD ambition as far as we know, the Cold War is over, and as for political prisoners, since I consider people incarcerated for simple drug possession to be political prisoners, the US has more political prisoners than North Korea and Cuba combined.

The hypocrisy of being allowed to legally travel to Pyongyang but not Havana really pisses me off, just out of principle. It’s the truly evil countries like North Korea (and to a far lesser extent Cuba) who prevent its citizens from traveling abroad, not purportedly “free” countries like the US. I should be allowed to travel to any country that will grant me a visa to go there.

My thought: because Cuban-Americans have a powerful lobbying community (remember Elian?) and North Koreans do not. The older generation that was exiled and dispossessed by Castro doesn’t want any tourist money going to him. I fully believe that if it weren’t for this, the embargo would have been lifted years ago. If it hasn’t toppled him in 50 years, what’s different about the next 10?

I do agree with you. Plus Cuba has something to sell: sui generis cigars and viable tourism - beaches, fishing, scuba diving (and if you believe some claims, affordable healthcare). North Korea has death camps and maybe some rice, if you’re lucky. Cuba will grant Americans visas, North Korea will not. If an American walks within 100 yards of North Korea, they’re shot at, snatched, and locked up as a spy (remember journalist Ling). But it’s the principle of it - and since when does our government not ban something and rely on others to enforce what they don’t want us to do? NEVER. So any sort of “the US is relying on North Korea to deny Americans visis to enforce a de facto no-Americans travel embargo” argument is disingenuous, IMHO. We’re talking about a government that bans fake drugs that look like real drugs. If the US can ban something, it will. It’s not going to rely on pragmatics or reality as justification to not pass a law banning something.

If we could just stop people who live in Florida and Texas from voting in federal elections and running for federal office (and I say this as a Texan - I’m willing to give up my right to vote and run for federal office for the benefit of the nation) most of our idiotic public policy problems, like the cuban embargo, would be fixable tomorrow.

Also, Americans can legally travel to Iran. That bothers me too. The whole “Axis of Evil” is fine, but not Cuba? What total bs.

I’ve always believed that it’s mostly the Cuban-American lobby (not that I have any inside knowledge), and partially in deference to JFK’s legacy. I just don’t think any politicians want to try to undo that. . . yet.

I’m pretty certain that this is the answer.

It is a bit frustrating that this law is even allowed to exist. I know we are kind of spoiled when it comes to which freedoms we have, but could a case be made that banning US Citizens from traveling to Cuba is unconstitutional? Has this been tried? What if the US wanted to ban citizens from visiting any other country? Would that be unconstitutional?

Of course it’s unconstitutional (and IAAL), but as long as the Republicans and Democrats keep appointing people to the Supreme Court who promise to keep interpreting the Commerce Clause as a blank check of unlimited congressional power to do absolutely anything, the courts have and will uphold it. People have sued about this before. “Valid exercise of regulation of international commerce” - bullshit. Nothing in the Constitution gives Congress the power to ban a US Citizen from legally (i.e. with valid passport and visa) traveling to another country. Nor would the framers have ever permitted that, except possibly as a valid restriction during wartime. If we declared war on Cuba, then okay, I’d accept it as a reasonable restriction and exercise of executive power, but only during wartime. But we have not, nor do we ever declare war on anyone. Only nouns. And wars on nouns are not real wars.

With the “Obamacare” case heading to the supreme court, we’ll likely get a hypocritical decision, which I’ll support, limiting the power of the commerce clause. But if the government has the power to force me to not touch a leaf, the government surely has the power to force me to not opt out of buying health insurance. You can’t have it both ways. If you oppose “Obamacare” on a constitutional basis, then you better oppose the Controlled Substances Act and federal drug prohibition as well. Otherwise you’re a pathetic hypocrite.

It’s a little-known secret that the effort to keep Cuba off-limits to Americans is being run by Canadian operatives who have infiltrated the government and who want to keep their winter vacation spot to themselves.

For that reason the law doesn’t actually prevent you from *going *there; it just prevents you from spending money there. You can get a license from the Treasury Dept. to go to Cuba if you do it as part of an organized cultural exchange, etc.

And meanwhile, the old Little Havana crowd detest the memory of Jack Kennedy on account of the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
But if the USA can have normal diplomatic and trade relations with VIETNAM, there is no excuse not to have them with Cuba.

No, it’s illegal just to step foot on Cuba, it’s also illegal to spend money there. Hell, it’s illegal to spend money on cuban products in ANY country. Bill Clinton got into a bit of trouble for buying a Cuban cigar in London. Even with Treasury Dept approval to travel to Cuba, you’re only allowed to spend a certain (very small) amount of money. I think Obama raised it a little bit for Cuban-Americans visiting family members in Cuba, which they can only do once every other year or something like that. But just traveling there, even to spend no money and do nothing but sightsee for a few hours, is illegal for Americans. A cuban stamp on your passport = crime.

But even so, except for giving money to a wartime enemy or terrorist, I don’t believe Congress has the power to tell us how we can spend our money. I’d be willing to tolerate a WMD exception to that, with WMD being very specifically defined - nuclear weapons, primarily (otherwise within a week cocaine would be classified as a WMD). But regulation ("to make regular) does not include the right to prohibit, and the government should have no power to tell me I can’t buy heroin, a pork sandwich in Cuba, a toilet that flushes more than 1.6 gallons at a time, or a 200 watt lightbulb, etc. Things can be taxed, the government can provide incentives to do/not do x, y and z, but banning things is not legitimate in a free country, especially under the US Constitution, with certain wartime exceptions (REAL wars - perpetual political wars on nouns do not count).

Freedom is dangerous, the more freedom we have, the more children get killed. We could save tens of thousands of “precious children” by lowering all speed limits to 5mph and making it a capital crime to drive faster than 5mph. Nobody would tolerate that, so spare me the “but the precious children” crap that politicians and other insincere people love to spew. People need to learn to deal with the costs of freedom. But as for everything other than WMDs, whether it be cars without airbags or lawn darts or cocaine or 10000 tons of marijuana, the government has no right to tell me how I can spend my money. And it certainly has no right to prohibit me from traveling somewhere (again, legitimate wartime exceptions notwithstanding… i’d consider travel restrictions analogous to the suspension of habeas corpus under the Constitution).

Well, idle sightseeing is illegal, because that constitutes tourism, and requires spending money as a free agent. However, the embargo is not against simply being there, as this recent article (“New Ways to Visit Cuba — Legally”) in the New York Times points out:

A co-worker of mine (U.S. citizen, not of Cuban origin), who was a student at Cal State L.A. in the 90s was able to go to Cuba to study film, by applying for a license with the Treasury Dept. Recently it’s been harder to get the “exception,” but it still exists. This company, Insight Travel, in fact, arranges for U.S. citizens to go as part of a cultural exchange program:

ETA: I completely agree, though, that the whole thing is nonsense, and is–in a way–an abridgment of freedom to associate. Cuba is hardly a terrorist state–certainly not more than North Korea or Vietnam. We should be able to go for whatever reason. I’ve been three times (to hear musical acts), and had to take the charter flight that goes from Tijuana, which is a pain in the ass.

What if congress and the president decided it was better if everyone had to get a special “license” to travel and spend money in any other country? Would that be upheld as constitutional under the commerce clause?

If an American travels to Cuba without an OFAC licence, they have committed a crime. Practically speaking, assuming you don’t use your credit card (if it even works in Cuba) how could the government ever prove you spent money there? It’s illegal to go there, to so much as sail your boat there, dock it for free, take a piss, and turn back. Unless you have a OFAC license.

I see it as false imprisonment. An unlawful restriction of movement. Just because I can go other places doesn’t mean it’s not false imprisonment. I should be able to go everyplace. And as long as I can go to North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and other such horrendous places, it doesn’t pass the straight face test to say I can’t go to Cuba.

I wanna go to tokyo.

No, it doesn’t work there. You have to take cash in, and the Cuban government doesn’t ask how much. Effectively, the U.S. government can’t stop someone from just going to Cuba without a license from a third country, and until 2004, the tourist economy there was essentially a U.S. dollar economy. It still kind of is, because the “convertible peso” used for luxury goods and tourism is pegged to the dollar (although now there’s a charge to convert from US dollars, which isn’t applied to currencies from other countries.) But for the U.S. government to pretend that by making tourism illegal in Cuba is going to keep US dollars out of the country is ridiculous considering the amount of remittances that go there from the States–which could be as much as $1 billion annually (it’s $1.5 billion worldwide). As of October, no one has been penalized for traveling to Cuba this year–one person was penalized last year, and three were penalized in 2009. (And the low numbers aren’t because no one is going there.) The whole thing really is just a game of domestic politics, as the sanctions became stricter with George W. Bush and then lightened up with Obama. The need to hold onto the Cuban-American vote in Florida is becoming less necessary, too, because as new generations are born over time, they tend to care less about the political issues.

Yea I understand there are 2 types of Pesos in Cuba, one for the cuban citizens to use, and one for foreigners that is permanently equal in exchange rate to the Dollar. I don’t see how that can possibly work - what stops cuban citizens from using the foreigner/dollar pesos in private cuban-cuban transactions? Why not just have one cuban peso and make it equal to the dollar? Which of course begs antoher question - how can any government declare the relative value of its currency? How could any country say it’s money is equal to the dollar, or any other foreign currency? Dictator aside, I don’t see how that can be done.

I’ve also heard there is an “exit fee” of $100 or so for foreigners to be permitted to leave Cuba.

They can, but the thing is that they aren’t used in the same marketplace, and people who don’t work in tourism or get remittances don’t have much currency in convertible pesos. (Even though in theory for some documentation purposes they’re enumerated the same, I think the price to buy is 1:20) To give a concrete example, normally you shop for produce and meat at the government market, which–in the neighborhood where I was staying (Vedado, Havana) is like an open-air lot with various tables/stalls where the farmers sell their food. You have to use regular pesos there, and food is rationed. Often some things just aren’t available. For example, you can usually get pork, but they hardly ever have chicken. One time I suggested we cook something with chicken, and my friends said the only way to do that was to go to a “divisa” (convertible peso) store. This was in a different neighborhood (closer to the Hotel National), and it was more like a modern, indoor market like in the States. My friends didn’t have convertible pesos–because they don’t work in tourism or get money from abroad–but I did, so we could buy chicken.

Because the government-controlled aspect of the economy doesn’t have the wherewithal to pay people with a peso that’s equal to the dollar. All of that money comes in as hard currency from tourists or remittances. Because these are such a huge part of Cuba’s economy, they just keep them “separate”–it’s like two different economies in one society. (I guess that’s where the word “divisa” comes from.)

Cuba isn’t the only government to have an exchange rate fixed to the dollar. Small countries that get a lot of their GDP from external trade or hard foreign currency can stay more stable that way. Cuba just does it with only certain goods–generally the non-essential goods.

Yes, it’s the “tourism tax.” I don’t know what it is now, but ten years ago it was only about $30, I think. Contrary to what many people say, the Cuban customs does stamp the passport of U.S. citizens–just not with a visa. Instead, when I was there, they stamped in the back of my passport a very small silhouette of a house in the shape of a Monopoly house token–in black when you come in, and then in red on top of the black one when you leave and pay the tourist tax. It doesn’t have any words on it, though, and it’s easy to miss it when thumbing through a passport–you’re not going to notice it unless you’re looking for it.