Mark Silva | Chicago Tribune
With longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro believed to be on or near his death-bed, a lot of American congressmen believe the decades-old U.S. trade embargo with Cuba should see the same fate.
With hope, perhaps, that they can open the door to Cuba just a little wider, a bipartisan pair of congressmen has offered a bill, the Cuban American Family Restoration Rights Act, to enable people with relatives in Cuba to travel there freely and deliver family aid. Reps. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) and Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) today offered their bill as a long-awaited remedy for families divided by a mere 90 miles of the Florida Straits and nearly 50 years of failed American political policy.
Any break in the trade embargo faces rough waters, however, with the Republican, Cuban-American community of South Florida holding Congress and the Bush administration alike to its commitments to exact as much punishment as possible on the Communist Castro regime. And neither party takes Cuban politics likely – the Clinton administration’s insistence on returning the young Cuban refugee, Elian Gonzalez, who had lost his mother in a raft crossing to Cuba during the presidential election campaign of 2000, probably cost Vice President Al Gore the state of Florida, and the White House as well.
“The bill can be said to be about our policy with Cuba,’’ Delahunt said today of the legislation that he and LaHood have filed, pointing to “a policy that I believe has been a total abysmal failure for some 47 years, administration after administration. It’s a policy that’s reduced American influence on the island to almost nothing as dramatic changes are occurring as we speak.
“It’s about moral values and family values, if you will,’’ he said. “And this bill is an effort to change an immoral policy, one that has caused pain and suffering to our own citizens, as well as to Cubans, and clearly, it has tarnished our image all over the world. ‘’
Under the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Americans are prohibited from travel to Cuba. While Americans with family in Cuba are allowed to periodically visit and send money or medicine, the White House has limited those visits to immediate family members and limited them to visits every three years, the congressman complains.
“I would submit that it is stunning in its cruelty,’’ Delahunt said. “It’s anti-family. It’s certainly not American. And it only magnifies the pain and anguish and the heartache that Cubans and Cuban Americans already have to suffer because of the relationship between our two governments.’‘
LaHood said Delahunt had asked him to join the cause a few weeks ago. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, LaHood has supported freer trade. “I have supported the idea of food. I have supported the idea of trade. I have supported the idea of medicine,’’ LaHood said.
“This really does comport with my own beliefs that when you have a country 90 miles off our border, we ought to have a strong relationship with them, whether we like or dislike or agree or disagree with the government there,’’ the Illinois congressman said. “There are many governments in this world of ours that we don’t agree with, but we allow people to take care of their families, and we allow people to come back and forth, and we allow people to have the opportunity to be with their families. And to restrict this particular country 90 miles off our border, I think, is not good policy.’‘
LaHood, of Peoria, added this: “I don’t know if I even have any Cuban-Americans in my district. This is something—it’s common sense.’‘
Asked why they have stopped short of seeking to lift all travel restrictions to Cuba, Delahunt notes that he and others already have filed legislation proposing that – and LaHood supports it.
“I think it’s important that we focus on lifting the restrictions on family travel, because it says something about us as a people,’’ LaHood said. “It’s no secret that America’s image in the world has suffered. We’re at its low point, if you will, its nadir, in terms of all of the polling data that I’ve seen.
“Look,’’ LaHood said, “I’m for opening up all kinds of opportunities with Cuba. But as I said, in this process that we work in around here, you know, it’s step by step. I voted for amendments on appropriation bills to allow us to provide food, to provide medicine. And that’s the way you really begin to build the kind of momentum to get to where some of us would like to be with Cuba. And again, as Bill said, this sends the message. It’s a good first step, as we inaugurate the 110th Congress, to send a message there are a lot of members around here who think this particular policy is not a good policy and we ought to move on from here.’’