Steve Chapman

Rubio claimed that people who make visits to Cuba "either don't realize or don't care that they're essentially funding the regime's systematic trampling of people's human rights." Such activity, he said, "provides money to a cruel, repressive and murderous regime."

That may be true. But U.S. law allows Americans to visit the island according to certain rules enforced by the Treasury Department, and some 500,000 people from the U.S. go each year. The rules for cultural trips were tightened last year after Rubio griped that they were too lax.

"The trip was handled according to a standard licensing procedure for federally approved 'people to people' cultural tours to the island," reported Reuters, "and the power couple received no special treatment, said Academic Arrangements Abroad, the New York-based group that organized the trip."

When it comes to sending money to a "cruel, repressive, murderous regime," Rubio's outrage is strangely selective. The same accusation could be laid against anyone who travels to China, Vietnam or Burma -- all of which are open to American visitors, as far as Washington is concerned.

Our willingness to trade with them stems from the belief that economic improvement and contact with outsiders will foster liberalization rather than retard it. But the opposite approach is supposed to produce this kind of progress in Cuba.

Do trade and tourism work to weaken repression? The evidence is mixed. But our attempted economic strangulation of Cuba has been an emphatic bust. We keep trying it, and the communist government remains in full control, making a mockery of our strategy.

The U.S. government has been tireless in pursuing a policy that does not look better with time. It could benefit from the advice of W.C. Fields, who said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then give up. No use being a damned fool about it."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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