By NANCY SAN MARTIN | Miami Herald
WASHINGTON - About 200 people opposed to the U.S. embargo on Cuba gathered here Tuesday in hopes of reviving the issue before Congress breaks for recess next month.
Supporters of identical bills in the House and Senate that would open up Cuba to U.S. tourism and allow Americans to spend dollars freely there had expected to get a vote from lawmakers as early as next week.
But the proposed legislation is not likely to make it to the floor of either chamber at least until September.
“Whenever it comes up, we’re in a good position,” Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona leading the House effort to lift the travel ban, told conference participants. “We’re in the right position to win.”
Efforts to relax the U.S. embargo, or completely dismantle it, have surged since the late 1990s. The move has been spearheaded by bipartisan legislators primarily from states with large agricultural industries eager to sell to Cuba.
But Republican floor leaders, particularly House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, backed by the White House, have derailed bills to ease the embargo for the last three years. Similar action is expected again this year. However, embargo opponents have been successful at garnering more votes as a growing number of lawmakers join the cause.
“We’ll see what the opposition is going to throw up this time,” Flake said, adding that having similar bills in both chambers would make it more difficult to derail.
The forum “Freedom to Travel” attracted embargo opponents from around the country, including Miami. The gathering comes as new travel restrictions kick in and time runs out on visas that currently allow for a wide range of people-to-people contact on the island. The Bush administration tightened restrictions in March, prohibiting travel such as those labeled as educational but not tied to academic institutions.
“The embargo, for the purpose of making change in Cuba, has accomplished nothing,” said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. “We’ve watched Cuba slowly and surely slip into the last century. I suggest we no longer sit idly by, that we bomb Cuba with Sears and Roebuck catalogs.”