Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cuba Travel Restrictions Finally Ending?


"Animal Farm" by Tim Rollins + KOS showing in Havana now

My friend Roland loves travel as much as I do. We celebrated Obama's victory with a trip to Mali. Now we're in the middle of planning out a trip to Indonesia, although he's going to visit a friend in Thailand and the two of them are going on to Cambodia for a week in a few days. But his favorite place of all is Cuba; he just loves it. And he's been there three times. He drives down to San Diego, parks his car, takes a taxi to the Tijuana Airport and flies to Havana. Like Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Dick Lugar (R-IN), Roland thinks the travel restrictions, more than a dozen years older than he is, are archaic and useless.

Yesterday's Washington Post points out that bipartisan momentum is growing in Congress to end them. There are still objections-- mostly from reactionary Cuban Americans like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the notorious Diaz-Balart Brothers in South Florida and corrupt allies with sticky palms like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), but the tide has shifted and President Obama has signaled that it's time for a change in regard to U.S. relations with Cuba. Today the Chamber of Commerce and Human Rights Watch are just two groups that will be part of a news conference on Capitol Hill to plug for lifting the travel ban. Dorgan and Lugar will be joined by Chris Dodd as primary speakers. Ironically, the biggest impediment to progressive is not a rag-tag gaggle of Republican fanatics from Florida and their bribe-happy allies-- no one cares what they think-- but progressive New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a son of Cuban immigrants will is as much a Castro hater as the kooks like the Diaz-Balarts.
A bipartisan majority in Congress, including farm-state Republicans looking for new agricultural markets, has long advocated lifting the sanctions to some degree. Provisions to ease the restrictions on travel and agricultural sales were repeatedly attached to legislation passed during the Bush administration, only to be abandoned in closed-door reconciliation conferences as the threat of a presidential veto loomed.

The new bill was first proposed two years ago, dying in committee, but this time it has gained 18 co-sponsors, including eight Democratic committee chairmen. Meanwhile, new legislation was offered in the House last week to further loosen trade restrictions for agricultural products.

...Lugar released a report in late February that calls for a dramatic overhaul of U.S.-Cuba policy. "Economic sanctions are a legitimate tool of U.S. foreign policy and they have sometimes achieved their aims, as in the case of apartheid in South Africa," he wrote in a letter accompanying the report. "After 47 years, however, the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of 'bringing democracy to the Cuban people,' while it may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba's impoverished population."

Menendez and right-wing hard-liners in the House are in a losing battle to keep the Cold Water against Cuba going. At this point Congress is just following the demands of people like Roland, who are basically ignored them. Did you see the CNN report a couple days ago about the art exhibit of American painters opening in Havana? It was the first since 1986. Art, music, sports, tourism, trade... Congress needs to follow people; people sure aren't following Congress.

This makes a lot more sense to me than Bob Menendez or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:

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At 7:11 PM, Blogger John McAuliff said...

Getting the legislation passed to end all travel restrictions is the end goal but it could take us most of the year to get there.

At the same time we must support the inclination of the Obama administration to use its authority to immediately allow non-tourist people to people travel.

See http://thehavananote.com/2009/03/obama_on_the_verge_of_opening.html


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