Just received some paperwork in the mail from [organization I’m traveling to Cuba with: legality = can’t use official name – henceforth, to be called SPOOCR (Stop Pissing On Our Constitutional Rights‘) pronounced ‘Spooker‘ because it’s damn scary that our government has selectively revoked our constitutional right to travel freely, and we’re okay with that].
There are forms to fill out for arrangements of our flight to Jose Martí Airport in Havana. There’s also a shitload of questions that require answers for the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) license under which I’m granted monitored and restricted travel to this forbidden land.
The questions are pages long…
What is my birth country? Birth city? My mother’s birth country? My father’s birth country? What is my gender? My height? My weight? My hair, eye, skin color (called “ethnicity” with the instruction to “be as specific as possible”)?
What is my occupation? Why did I choose this occupation? What was my previous occupation? Why did I change occupations?
For what reason do I want to travel to Cuba?
I’m guessing that neither ‘I don’t know’ nor ‘Just to see’ will qualify as an acceptable answer for this American Inquisition.
Question after question after question…wait a minute…OFAC wants my mother’s maiden name?? This is the very question (with an answer no one else should know) used for security purposes in gaining access to such personal things as bank account transactions.
Why does my government want my mother’s maiden name? So that, while I’m in jail, they can dip into my savings account for the thousands of dollars in fines if I’m ever caught traveling to Cuba illegally?
In my SPOOCR Cuba-travel packet, the briefing pages state boldly: “Attention U.S. Citizens: Due to United States restrictions…please be aware that this restricted license to travel to Cuba is valid only for the dates of this trip. Attempting to add extra days puts the entire organization at risk…”
And, “…It is important that you understand that our activities while in Cuba will be restricted to the structure and itinerary created by SPOOCR. This is a strict stipulation of the category of license which we hold with the U.S. Department of Treasury…”
I feel suddenly claustrophobic.
Like I’m already in Cuba.
With Castro’s revolutionary boot flattening me into submission. Only it’s not Castro’s Communist boot stomping on my right to travel freely.
For the first time in my life, I contemplate Communism from the viewpoint of a citizen living under such a regime.
I have never in my American life felt so restricted without recourse to do anything about it (okay, with the exception of every April 15th).
Ironically, I cannot report this impingement on my constitutional freedom to the democratic powers that be because it is they who have de-constitutionalized my freedom.
I am face-to-face with a glaring hypocrisy in my government: utilization of the Communist tactic of enforcing travel restriction to keep American citizens from traveling to a Communist country we vilify for doing the same thing.
My head is spinning…
This morning I went riding through my neighborhood on my bike, just like when I was a kid.
Swerving side to side down the middle of the road against traffic…figure eights…no hands…zooming down hills fast enough to time travel.
It felt so free.
I needed to feel free again.
I was up all night trying to fall asleep under a scratchy blanket of thoughts about Cuba and Castro, my government and the embargo, all those probing, personal questions in all that paperwork I had to fill out in order to get permission to travel to a place that my constitutional right already guarantees my freedom to travel to.
I think what really kept me awake was the niggling realization that I don’t know my country as well as I thought I did. I mean, I don’t really know what my government is doing. Or why. I don’t know why I haven’t been more concerned about what my government is doing. I don’t know why I’m suddenly so concerned now.
And I still don’t know exactly why I’m going to Cuba.
Except that I’ve been ordered not to.
“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land“