With the new Congress having begun work and the Fiscal Year 2003 omnibus appropriations bill having been passed early this month, it is an appropriate time for a review and an update on initiatives related to US policy toward Cuba.
There were two outstanding developments last year: First, the House of Representatives’ positive votes on the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill for ending the ban on travel, ending financing restrictions for food sales, ending limits on remittances, and opposing an effort by the opposition to condition ending the travel ban on a Presidential “anti-terrorism” certification to Congress. These votes demonstrated real progress in strengthening support for changing policy toward Cuba. Second, the continuing growth in agricultural sales to Cuba supported by farm state members of Congress and others seeking to engage with Cuba. With their help and yours, a veto-proof majority in the House of Representatives and a strong coordinated effort in the Senate to pass legislation and send it to the President’s desk are possible this year.
In spite of strong bipartisan support in Congress, in February embargo supporters were able to strike all legislative provisions relating to Cuba from the FY2003 omnibus appropriations bill, which was the completion of 2002 congressional work. These included the three Cuba provisions noted above, plus a separate provision in support of cooperation with Cuba on counter-narcotics efforts, and a provision imposing greater accountability by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the issuing of licenses for US citizens to travel to Cuba. The White House had threatened to veto the entire $400 billion spending bill if any part of the embargo was weakened; and House Republican leadership pressed for removal of the Cuba provisions, in spite of the overwhelmingly positive votes achieved in 2002. Again, a small group of powerful lawmakers exerted their influence over the legislative process and the fate of the Cuba legislation.
Outreach to farm state groups was bolstered by an extremely successful booth at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Tampa, Florida, in January. LAWG, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Center for International Policy, and the Cuban-American Alliance were on hand to distribute information on US policy toward Cuba, detail potential trade benefits to US farmers, collect signatures for the Cuba Central petition, and answer questions. The response was remarkable. Our booth was one of the most popular at the show, and most farmers wanted specifics on how they could sell products to Cuba and help to lift the trade and travel bans.
Washington-based members of the LAWG coalition have been meeting with the staff of all new members of Congress. As of this update, we have met with about half of the House offices. Results have been encouraging in several ways. Most of the staffers have said that their members do not yet have a firm position on Cuba policy; this means that most of these members want to hear the opinions of their constituents and are open to learning about US-Cuba policy. We are optimistic that support for a change in Cuba policy among new members of Congress will be strong. Most staffers have been receptive to our information and quick to agree that the current policy is a failure.
A recent poll by the Miami Herald showed that more than half of the Cuban-American community in south Florida supports some sort of dialogue with the Cuban government. This, combined with the October 2000 Florida International University poll, which found that over 63 percent of US citizens think that the United States should allow travel to Cuba, and 57 percent oppose the full embargo, shows that the tide of public opinion favors engagement, even increasingly among Cuban-Americans.
A group of prominent moderate Cuban-Americans from Miami visited Washington in late February to make their voices heard in Congress. These key members of the growing anti-embargo movement in south Florida met with strategically-important members of Congress and staff to explain that the Cuban-American community in its majority favors opening trade and travel to Cuba. These meetings are likely to be instrumental in firming the resolve of our allies for the coming year and also in winning the support of some important new members.
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) has introduced the “United States-Cuba Trade Act of 2003”, S. 403, with co-sponsors Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Kent Conrad (D-ND). The bill, which is seeking new co-sponsors and is now in the Finance Committee, seeks to repeal the embargo in its entirety. For more information on this bill (including the bill text) and to read a “Dear Colleague” letter about it, visit [url=http://www.cubacentral.com]http://www.cubacentral.com[/url] Additional Senate bills are pending, and senators will use any opportunity to attach amendments to appropriate legislation. We anticipate action on travel to be the highest priority.
Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and other members of the House Cuba Working Group will likely offer legislation again this year to lift the travel, trade, and remittance bans. Rep. Flake’s travel amendment to the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill last year passed overwhelmingly (262-167), and we expect comparable results this year. One of our goals is a significantly increased vote total this year; we have aspirations for a veto-proof majority. And we’ll be counting on your assistance. A companion bill to Senator Baucus’ legislation will likely also be introduced in the House, plus a variety of other initiatives that may include sunsetting the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, expanding cooperation with Cuba on counter-narcotics, repealing “Section 211” on trademark issues, and others.
Call or write your senators with this message: Please co-sponsor the Baucus bill, S. 403, “United States-Cuba Trade Act of 2003”, to lift the trade embargo on Cuba; provide Cuba with normal trade relations status on a permanent basis; and repeal travel restrictions to Cuba. You may contact their Washington, DC, office by calling the US Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 and asking to be transferred to your senator’s office. Or, you may call them in their district office; phone numbers may be found on their websites by visiting [url=http://www.house.gov]http://www.house.gov[/url] or [url=http://www.senate.gov]http://www.senate.gov[/url] Email addresses are also available on these websites.
Also urge your senators and congressperson to support any initiatives that would lift the ban on travel to Cuba, remove the cap on remittances to Cuba, and any amendment that would allow food and medicine sales to Cuba to be financed by private US institutions.
Recruit people to sign the petition on [url=http://www.cubacentral.com]http://www.cubacentral.com[/url] We would like to greatly expand the current more-than-8,000 signatories, and we need your help to do it. Please sign the petition if you haven’t, and let others know that this web site is updated regularly with developments on Cuba policy.