Cuba in The U.S. Congress

Holding true to its historic ability to garner international press attention seemingly disproportionate to its geographic size, Cuba has once again claimed the spotlight. From a now disputed statement from Fidel Castro that the ”Cuban model” no longer functions to the glimmering possibility that the U.S. government will remove Cold War-era travel bans, it is clear that change is in the Caribbean winds. As part of COHA’s memoranda series on Cuba, this press release will update our readership on the status of the Cuba travel ban in the United States Congress.

As a recent TIME article reports, the bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 4645: Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act appears to be stalled after clearing the initial hurdle of the House Committee on Agriculture by a vote of 25-20-1. The bill has two purposes: “to remove obstacles to the legal sales of United States agricultural commodities to Cuba [thus its appearance in the Committee on Agriculture] and to end travel restrictions on all Americans to Cuba.” Its next step involves passing the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees, then passing a vote before the full House.

The Senate version, S. 428: Freedom to Travel Cuba Act, has not seen major action since February of 2009. While it has 40 co-sponsors in addition to its primary sponsor, soon-to-retire Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has vowed to filibuster the bill. From his statement: “So let me make this clear: I oppose and will filibuster any attempt to pass the bill in the Senate,” Menendez went on to compare Havana to “regimes in places like Iran”, and to cite the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo earlier this year, an opposition hunger striker who had been arrested in 2003, as evidence of “one of the world’s harshest dictatorships” which “denies its own people basic human rights.” It is to be wondered if Senator Menendez’s feelings changed at all after Havana released 52 political prisoners in July of this year, or after Fidel Castro directly criticized Ahmadinejad just a few days ago.

Thus, it seems that the greatest possibility for change to Cuban-United States relations will once again come from the White House. TIME reports that President Obama plans to ease the Cuban travel restrictions to essentially return them to the levels seen under President Clinton. Importantly, the article calls into question the result of such an action: will it incite Congress to act further, or sate the already tepid ardor of the anti-restrictionists?

As Congress returns from recess for just four weeks, before leaving again for the November elections, the bill’s fate remains murky. With supporters and opponents of varying degrees of passion on both sides of the aisle, as well as the expected shake-up of the lines of that aisle after November, it is starting to appear that, rather than congressional action, Obama’s expected initiative might be the foundation from which Washington takes its next step toward Cuba–hopefully with no subsequent steps back.

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5 thoughts on “Cuba in The U.S. Congress

  • September 18, 2010 at 11:24 am
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    Well, I can only repeat my comment to "Castro’s Change of Heart: The Implications for Cuba, …"
    On occasion of the 12th anniversary of the imprisonment of the Cuban 5 a press conference was broadcast live and is now available to re-view or you can listen to or download the audio-only mp3 file http://www.freethefive.org/
    Rather at the end of the 45 minutes you can hear Col. Lawrence Wilkerson telling why Congress members don't dare to vote for free travelling to Cuba and free trading with agricultural products there. They said to him (he called name, I didn't understand) and Eleana Ros-Lethinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers won't like it.
    One said: I lost my primary because of voting according to that.
    Thanks to your article, I hope for all readers it is to be seen that it was ridiculous, that jewish people in Cuba are needing special support by USAID contractor Alan P. Gross.
    He certainly was there for other reasons than the officially announced ones.
    Last but not least, I want to remind at the elections campaign of president Obama when he had said he wanted a dialogue in mutual respect with Cuba, Hillary Rodham Clinton said he would have to fear to be assassinated for that.
    Additionally, people like the above cited "Menendez" are lying.
    Orlando Zapato Tamayo was a criminal having hurted the head of one of his neighbors severely with a machete and he commited other crimes according to Cuban sources, whom I trust much more than exile Cubans having caused 3,478 dead and 2,099 invalid Cuban people until 1999 .
    Only because of the crimes they commited against Cuba there should be held a trial against those terrorists similar to those after World War II against the Nazis in Nuremberg, I think.

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  • September 18, 2010 at 11:35 am
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    Additionally, I want to express my gratitude to COHA staff for their – most of the time – well balanced articles and giving the opportunity for telling the truth.
    Otherwise, the credibility of all US citizens would be on stake, especially, in their alleged fight against terrorism.

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  • September 19, 2010 at 11:10 am
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    I believe the U.S. is wrong to continue the embargo on Cuba. That policy simply gives Castro a handy excuse to blame someone else for his spectecular failure of the last 50 years. I hope we lift the travel restrictions for U.S. citizens- and Castro allows Cuban citizens the same right to travel freely.
    I believe the U.S. will soon lift the travel embargo on Cuba. As long as the Castro Boys are in charge, that will not happen. Giving Cubans the right to leave Cuban would mean the end of the Cuban Police State.

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  • September 21, 2010 at 7:21 am
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    Dear Howard Cox, if you want to prove your so far believing, the US would have to lift the "embargo". Until this is not done, people like you will never know.

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