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Posted October 12, 2009 by publisher in US Embargo

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BY JUAN O. TAMAYO | El Nuevo Herald

A powerful campaign to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba is rumbling through Congress, with both backers and opponents predicting eventual victory and a Cuban-American Senator holding a key vote.

Approval of the measures would have a profound impact on U.S.-Cuba relations, unleashing an estimated one million American tourists to visit the island and undermining White House control of policy toward Havana.

``There would be an explosion of contacts between Americans and Cubans . . . that would almost overshadow what the two governments are doing,’’ said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute think thank in suburban Washington.

Proponents say the measures still have not received active support from the White House and the Democratic leadership in both chambers.

Cuban officials have told recent U.S. visitors that while President Barack Obama’s policy changes so far have been too timid to require a Havana reply, ending the U.S. travel ban would be significant enough to require some sort of Havana concession.

Even opponents of the free-travel bills in the House and Senate admit the campaign for approval is powerful. ``I have never seen a stronger effort,’’ said Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy political action committee.

Backing the change has been the U.S. travel industry—Orbitz says it has 100,000 signatures on a petition—and dozens of newspaper editorials, large agricultural companies, former Secretary of State George Shultz, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and groups that traditionally oppose U.S. sanctions on the island.

``Our goals should be to get rid of the travel ban in the next six months,’’ Richardson said Friday during a speech to the National Democratic Network in Washington. ``This is a step in the right direction,’’ Shultz declared last month.

Polls show 60-70 percent of all Americans favor lifting the travel restrictions, and one House bill championed by Massachusetts Democrat Bill Delahunt has gathered 180 sponsors—38 short of the 218 votes required for passage.

Obama ended all restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel to the island on Sept. 3. But other U.S. citizens and residents can travel only under special permits for groups such as churches, academics and business—not for tourism. That was allowed, however, from 1977 to 1982 under former President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Most of the public attention has been focused on the House bill backed by Delahunt and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif. Farr, noting that U.S agricultural sales to Cuba are allowed but not tourism, has repeated several variations of the line that ``We can send American potatoes to Cuba, but not American people.’‘

But a lesser-known version has a better chance of passing because it also eases restrictions on U.S. agricultural and medical sales to Cuba, in hopes of gathering support from those lobbies, said a Senate Republican staffer monitoring the progress of the travel bills.

The main Senate version of the measure—with 25 co-sponsors from both parties at last count—is being championed by Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Michael Enzi, R-Wyo. and Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

But backers of the changes say the bills have not moved forward through the congressional maze so far because of the lack of active support from the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in both chambers.

``The Obama people are showing timidity. They are sitting on their hands,’’ said a Senate aide whose Democratic boss favors lifting all travel restrictions. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the issue.

Administration officials say lifting all travel restrictions would be too drastic and perhaps chaotic, and the the president prefers a more measured warming of relations. They stop short of saying whether Obama would sign or veto the bill if passed by Congress.

``At the end of the day this is a leadership issue,’’ said the Senate Republican aide, who also asked for anonymity. ``Do the Democrats have the will to bring this up [for a vote] with all the other issues—healthcare, Afghanistan, etc.’‘

Most of Washington’s Cuba watchers agree the full Congress is probably going to pass some bills easing Cuba sanctions, most likely one re-defining the requirement that Havana pay ``cash in advance’’ for U.S. food purchases. The change would allow Cuba to pay when the shipments reach Havana, not before they leave U.S. ports as now required.

But the future of the ``Free Travel to Cuba’’ initiatives is far more uncertain, with most of those monitoring the struggle saying that some version will likely pass the House, but all will almost certainly die in the Senate.

Delahunt ``has a pretty impressive list of sponsors. That bill looks good in the House,’’ said a former Bush administration Cuba expert. ``Delahunt will pass the House,’’ added an Obama administration official. Both asked for anonymity so they could speak frankly about the topic.

But most supporters as well as opponents say the travel measures are unlikely to pass the Senate, where the Democrats have a smaller majority and the bills face stiff opposition from Bob Menendez, a powerful Cuban American Democrat from New Jersey and Florida’s Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and George LeMieux, a Republican.

Menendez and Nelson have strongly opposed easing the ban on U.S. tourism. LeMieux, who replaced Sen. Mel Martinez, is expected to also oppose easing the travel restrictions.

``This is a battle of perceptions. The pro-travel groups are claiming they will win, in the hope of creating the sense of movement and victory,’’ said Claver-Carone. ``But in the end, the Senate will be tough, if not impossible.’‘

Juan Tamayo can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on October 12, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    If you Representative is not on board yet, ask him or her to support this bill.

    If your Senator is not on board, ask him or her to be brave and come forward to do the right thing.

    Tell him/her you want your right to travel anywhere in the world. It is your right as an American.

    Also, tell them to take away the Castro’s excuse for their own decades of failures.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on October 14, 2009 by Yeyo with 411 total posts

    Its a shame that the Cuban goverment is doing NOTHING to facilitate the contacts between the families in both sides.
    They make things harder every day.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on October 14, 2009 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    How is the Cuban govt making it “harder every day”?

  4. Follow up post #4 added on November 11, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Committee on Foreign Affairs

    U.S. House of Representatives

    Washington, D.C. 20515-0128

    Howard L. Berman (D-CA), Chairman


    You are respectfully requested to attend an OPEN hearing of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building:

    DATE: Thursday, November 19, 2009

    TIME: 10:00 a.m.

    SUBJECT: Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba?

    WITNESSES: General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA, Retired

    President BR McCaffrey Associates, LLC

    Cuba consulting services

  5. Follow up post #5 added on November 11, 2009 by paul

    The credit blockade is here to stay. Weekend socialists should go party in other despotic countries.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on November 12, 2009 by Yeyo with 411 total posts


    The Cuban government instead for make things easier to facilitate contact between families they make everything extremely difficult.

    According to the Cuban Constitution, Cubans citizens living outside of Cuba in theory loose the Cuban citizenship if they adopt another’s country. However if they want to go back the Cuban government only recognize Cuban passports for Cubans born in Cuba.

    Therefore if by them that person is Citizen of US, Canada, Spain etc, still they have to apply for a Cuban Passport, cost $ 360.00.

    Now the passport does not means that you are allow to visit Cuba. At that point they have to give you the so called “vigencia de viaje” or travel authorization, which by the way you may have paid the passport and they may easily refuse to give you the travel authorization which in reality is an entry visa.
    Cubans are the only country in the world where their own citizens have to ask for entry visas.
    The entry visa allows you to stay for a month. If you want to stay longer you have to apply and pay an extension to a maximum of three months.
    The country that gives you the passport put a limit in the time you can spend on it!!!!!
    If a tourist wants to go only buys the ticket and voila to enjoy the sun…..

    Cubans, no matter where they live, are second class citizens on their own country.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on November 13, 2009 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    “If a tourist wants to go only buys the ticket and voila to enjoy the sun…..

    not if the tourist is an American or foreigner living in America and wants to go to Cuba…..

  8. Follow up post #8 added on November 13, 2009 by paul

    @ manfredz

    wah wah one little country along with a few others around the world, in comparison with Cuba that makes it’s citizens have:

    - A permission slip, like a child.
    - Good standing as a communist.
    - An invitation from the outside.

    I’d rather take my tourist dollars elsewhere and not line the pockets of that military dictatorship. I guess it’s alright for most of you guys right? right.

    We Americans travel without having permission slips, certain approved ideology, and -hahahhahahahahhahahhahah- “invitations”.

    Keep rooting for tropical communism, knuckleheads.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on November 13, 2009 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    you may be right in that our tourist dollars are keeping the castros in power OR
    one can equally argue that our taking vacations in Cuba and in many cases interacting with Cubans is feeding an ongoing change.
    From one perspective one can argue that the changes are trivial and not amounting to anything or albeit slowly, change is happening.
    I’m a veteran of living in Berlin and having had relatives in the East so I know how harsh communism can be - Cuba is nothing like that.
    A very trivial but to me interesting difference is that I always take take Toronto saturday paper with me whenever I go and how its passed around both among the resort staff and friends outside the resort. I never would have dared doing this when going to east Berlin.

    But each to his own opinion.

  10. Follow up post #10 added on November 13, 2009 by paul

    An ongoing change of what? you REALLY think that chatting while buying stuff in Cuba changes anything? don’t be naive if you can help it.

    Cuba is a tropical GDR with both a natural wall and the wall that the military government imposes on the population.

    The only change is the Castros passing their military society along to their children, obedient nomenklatura and other relatives.

    Sprinkle some social welfare and all the naive liberals in the West keep making excuses for Cuba’s brand of tropical socialism. It’s the same type of people that hoped that the GDR would be a shining example of democratic socialism, that would try to get others to drink the koolaid about the GDR being a good place.

  11. Follow up post #11 added on November 13, 2009 by Yeyo with 411 total posts

    Manfredz what amaze me is that out of what I mentioned on my post (#6) your reply is that Americans cannot travel freely to Cuba.

    That is kind of simplistic but you are actually right and I personally oppose the embargo and travel restrictions, however the fact is that we ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT USA, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT CUBA.


    The government of Cuba, the Castro Regime that you are bluntly indicating that is “softer” that East Berlin (by the way I’am completely sure that you are wrong about that, and if not ask the thouthands of Cubans that enjoyed working and studying in all the East European Countries including Ex GDR and East Berlin rather than been in Cuba) does not allow their own Citizens to leave freely Cuba but most amazingly also restrict the entrance to Cuba of their own citizens without any explanation. They have a visa system for their own citizens. We are not taking about foreign dollar handling tourists but about average Cubans.

    The Cuban Goverment had forbidden the entrance to average Cubans living elsewhere NOT on account that they are criminals or terrorists, but simply because they have publicly posted their ideas or simple comments against the system. And you no what is the worts, when they say you can not go to your own homeland, no explanations given.

    Do you have any explanation to that??

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