Have you heard about the Cubans staying at the Sheraton Maria Isabel in Mexico City? The U.S. government threatened to fine Starwood, Sheraton's parent company, because, as an American entity doing business with Cubans, Starwood was violating the U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
Our Cuba policy has long driven me batty. The embargo is misguided and shortsighted, born of special interests and political kowtowing. Yes, Cuba has an appalling human rights record, but so do other countries (China and Myanmar come to mind)--and we certainly don't forbid travel there.
And for those of you about to accuse me of being partisan, please hold your horses. I blame every president--every politician--since John F. Kennedy started the de facto travel ban back in 1963.
What galls me isn't the economic sanctions so much as something more selfish. I believe that Americans should have the right to travel wherever we want.
Subscribers don't always like it when I write something "political," but if anything, I'm arguing against the institutional politicization of travel. On this count, I'm a libertarian: Every individual must be allowed to make his or her own choices about where to travel.
There are countries--and states--that I think twice about visiting because I'm not sure I'd feel welcome there. And perhaps I shouldn't spend my tourism dollars supporting agendas I don't agree with. Then again, I'm hopelessly optimistic that I'll be able to enlighten someone simply by interacting with him. Travelers have long been a potent force of positive change.
The thing is, it's my decision. At Budget Travel, we write about all destinations regardless of their policies; we leave it to you to decide if the politics matter. Some people prefer not to think about the issues surrounding a place, and hey, that's their prerogative.
Back to the Sheraton situation--undiplomacy at its finest--which soon devolved into farce. Sheraton evicted the Cubans, a move the Mexican government called discriminatory. Local officials ordered the hotel shuttered for code violations, but the hotel still quietly let guests in, and then the city reversed its decision. I wonder if the hotel could've simply not charged the Cubans--what a magnanimous gesture that would have been.
It would've been even better if Starwood had refused outright to obey the U.S. policy. But I'm not so optimistic as to hope for civil disobedience from corporate executives. It isn't good for the shareholders.