Cuban American Vet Lobbies for Travel Freedom

Carlos Lazo, an Army National Guard medic just returned from Iraq, is lobbying to ease travel restrictions to Cuba so that he can visit his children more than once every three years.

Bronze Stars go to Guard medics (Seattle Times)

The day before Carlos Lazo was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions as a combat medic in Fallujah, he made one of his regular phone calls to Cuba. He told his two sons, 16 and 19, who live in Cuba, that he would be thinking of them when U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, pinned the medal to his uniform yesterday morning at the Army National Guard Armory in Seattle. He told them he hoped he could see them soon. “I’m proud to be an American, and I’m happy to serve,” Lazo said. “We were in Iraq fighting for freedom. And now I’m here, and I’m fighting Congress for the freedom to travel to Cuba.”


For Lazo, [the ceremony] was a time to reflect on how much his life has changed since he left his home country on a raft 13 years ago, landing in Key West, Fla. He moved to the Seattle area, became a U.S. citizen and now works as a counselor for the state Department of Social and Health Services. He joined the Washington Army National Guard in 2001 because he wanted to give back to the country that had given him so many opportunities, he said.


“It takes real training and strength of character to keep going and administer to others under those conditions,” said McDermott, who awarded the men their medals. McDermott has also been trying to help Lazo in his quest to loosen travel restrictions that limit visits to Cuba to once every three years. Lazo hasn’t seen his sons since April 2003. “I only wish [Lazo] were able to share this moment with [his] children,” McDermott said.

Frankly, I can’t fathom getting on a raft and leaving behind my 3- and 6-year-old sons with the knowledge I might never see them again. Still, the travel embargo to Cuba ranks right up there with mohair subsidies among the most idiotic longstanding public policies of the United States government.

The embargo is hindering the Cuban economy and making the lifes of ordinary Cubans more miserable but having no discernable impact on the regime. Castro has been in power since well before I was born and will almost certainly continue merrily along until his death.

Meanwhile, the freedom of many American citizens is being limited for no compelling reason. While Castro is undeniably a tyrant, he is by no means the world’s worst. Americans are free to travel to China and Iran, to take two obvious examples, yet they can’t travel to a nearby island that poses zero national security threat to the United States.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    If we were consistent in our trade and foreign policy Cuba would be treated just like another communist dictatorship, China. But the Taiwan lobby doesn’t have a lock on any state’s election calculations.

  2. SoloD says:

    You are exactly right when it comes to the stupidity of this 45 year old embargo,but find the politician who has the guts to urge ending the silliness.

    Both parties live in fear of alienating the Cuban population in southern Florida, despite the probability that ending the embargo would bring an end to a Castro regime faster than the embargo.

  3. Blaine says:

    “… that poses zero national security threat to the United States.” I agree with the idea of lifting the travel ban, but that statement almost made me change my mind. Canada poses some security threat to the United States. So I think Cuba would also pose a threat, granted almost to small to mention but not zero.

  4. Moe Lane says:

    No President of the United States is going to lift the embargo while Fidel Castro still lives and breathes. The unspoken, bipartisan consensus is to wait until he dies before normalizing relations. Which is whacked, to be sure – but it’s also the way that it is.