Let’s Open a Wireless Window to Cuba

Three of the world’s largest companies involved in wireless telecommunications—Nokia, AT&T, and Verizon—this week asked the Obama administration to further loosen the U.S. embargo against Cuba. According to a Bloomberg News story this morning:

Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile-phone maker, is urging the U.S. to ease its 47-year-old trade embargo so it can sell handsets to Cuba. AT&T and Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless providers, urged regulators to make it easier for U.S. companies to directly connect calls to and from Cuba.

The almost half-century-old embargo no longer serves any legitimate national security purpose, as I’ve argued before. The remaining restrictions on providing wireless communication services only demonstrate how the embargo actually undermines our stated goal of bringing more freedom to the long-suffering people of Cuba.

To President Obama’s credit, he has done more than most presidents to ease the embargo, including modest steps such as easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans and authorizing telecommunications firms to offer limited service in Cuba. In practice, however, President Obama’s efforts have had little effect, and they have not gone far enough.

If the basis of current U.S. policy toward Cuba is democratic empowerment of its people, then removing telecommunications restrictions would be a logical and healthy next step. According to the Bloomberg story, Cuba still has the lowest mobile-phone penetration rate in Latin America. What better way to empower nearly eleven and a half million people than by easing restrictions on their communications with free residents of the democratic United States?

President Obama himself argued in a White House statement in April 2009 that two of the best ways to promote Cuban democratization were by “facilitating greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba” and “increasing the flow of … information to the Cuban people.”

Here is an opportunity to translate those sound words into action.