Cuba Politics

House to vote on bill that will lift travel restrictions on Cuban Americans

Posted February 24, 2009 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

The House will be voting as early as tomorrow on an omnibus spending bill that will include the rollback on Cuban American travel restrictions allow people with Cuban heritage to travel freely to Cuba.

The current restrictions allow Cuban Americans to visit only immediate family once every three years with a maximum of fourteen days on the island. Also, they are currently restricted to spending no more than $50 per day while traveling in Cuba.

The language is included in a spending bill that is passed each year in Congress to finance government operations.

Once this bill is signed by President Obama, this new law would allow Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba once a year to visit relatives and spend up to $170 a day for an unlimited duration.

This is the text of the bill  that addresses this policy change:

SEC. 620. Section 910(a) of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7209(a)) is amended to read as follows:

(a) AUTHORIZATION OF TRAVEL RELATING TO COMMERCIAL SALES OF AGRICULTURAL AND MEDICAL GOODS- The Secretary of the Treasury shall promulgate regulations under which the travel related transactions listed in paragraph (c) of section 515.560 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, are authorized by general license for travel to, from, or within Cuba for the marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods pursuant to the provisions of this title.

SEC. 621. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendments made to section 515.560 and section 515.561 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, related to travel to visit relatives in Cuba, that were published in the Federal Register on June 16, 2004. END

The bill is slated to pass the House this week and the Senate soon thereafter. There is a vocal but small group of Republicans who oppose this bill. However, since President Bush is no longer in office threatening a veto of any bill that contained any language that would ease the Cuban Embargo, it is likely to pass. With bills to lift the travel restrictions on all Americans recently introduced in the House and in the Senate, this bill will be an interesting test for any opposition of lifting freedom of travel restrictions on Americans.

Also, since this bill includes federal funding of $183 million for comprehensive Everglades restoration and would provide many jobs for people in Florida, the usual opponents in Miami will have to decide whether they want to oppose this bill because of the Cuba language or if they want to support this bill becuase of the job creation funding that will bring money to their state. and enter bill number HR 1105 to follow the progress of the bill.

Member Comments

On February 25, 2009, publisher wrote:

From John McAuliff email:

The House debate on the Omnibus Appropriations bill has begun on or TV

The language on Cuba has several positive aspects and was inserted by Representative Serano with the assistance of Representative Castor (see below).  It should be considered a victory which reflects how the majority can use the rules to its favor and is upsetting to the hard liners in Florida.  Passage helps build momentum for stronger action by the Obama administration and Congress.

It will be interesting regarding prospects for travel legislation to see whether Sen Martinez can use Senate rules to block the bill, Sen. Menendez gets involved and Sen Reid accommodates him.

However if the language survives, it is only a partial victory.  The section on Cuban American travel is non-enforcement language.  It does not suspend or reverse the law.  Oddly travel for agricultural sales receives a general license but not Cuban American or other non-tourist travel.  OFAC’s role is also a target.

Passage will effectively enable at least annual Cuban American travel for the balance of the fiscal year.  However, it does not remove from President Obama the responsibility to use his authority to enable general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist people to people travel, including Cuban American, educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and “support for the Cuban people”.

John McAuliff
Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

On February 25, 2009, publisher wrote:

The House has passed the bill that will lift Cuban American travel restrictions but it still needs to be voted on in the Senate.

“But the measure must pass the Senate before becoming law, and Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American, opposes the changes, an aide said. Martinez could try to use Senate procedural hurdles to stop the bill.”

I’m not sure he can stop this bill. It contains billions of dollars in spending that allows the US to function. I’d love to see him try to stop such a huge funding bill for something as petty as these tiny changes in Cuba policy.

Bring it on!

On February 25, 2009, publisher wrote:

And the honorable Senator Martinez weighs in:

“Florida Senator Mel Martinez this afternoon threatened to block a big spending bill that would ease restrictions on Cuban-American travel to visit relatives in Cuba.

“I am very concerned about any efforts to modify our policies toward the Cuban government so long as the authoritarian regime continues to deny basic human rights to its people,’’ Martinez said minutes after the House passed the bill.”

Good. Let him try to stop this spending bill just for his own self gratification. It will be seen as a selfish attempt to keep his Radio Marti and other hacks in South Florida employed while restricting my right to travel.

If he thinks it’s worth the fight, I am looking forward to having ringside seats.

I will be in Washington DC next week for the Cuba Consultation Day so I’ll maybe I’ll have a first hand look at this battle.

On February 26, 2009, texasfree wrote:

This bill will pass.