WASHINGTON (AFP) - A group of US senators introduced legislation to lift a ban prohibiting Americans from traveling to Cuba, undeterred by the recent crackdown on dissidents in the Communist island.
“After 43 years, it ought to be clear to everyone that the embargo has failed to weaken (Cuban President Fidel) Castro,” said Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the main sponsor of “The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.”
“A better approach is to reach out to the Cuban people. Ending the travel ban is the best way to do this,” said Baucus, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.
Other senators who are co-sponsoring the legislation include senators Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Larry Craig of Idaho, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Mark Dayton of Minnesota.
Baucus decried Cuba’s human rights abuses—including the recent crackdown on dissidents—as “appalling,” but said democracy is better served by reaching out to the Cuban people than by trying to isolate the regime.
“By continuing and even strengthening the embargo and travel ban in Cuba, we are only further closing off the country and preventing democracy,” he said.
Tens of thousands of Americans visit the island every year, but US officials have said tourist dollars only prolong Castro’s rule.
Interest groups which support lifting the travel ban, as well as a four-decade-long trade embargo against Cuba, cheered the new proposed legislation.
“This bill is a clear demonstration of solidarity with the Cuban people at a time when they need it most,” said Wayne Smith, Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy, and a former US Interests Section Chief in Havana.
“Legalizing travel to Cuba is needed, now more than ever, so that engagement with Cuba can replace isolation of Cuba, as the best instrument for America to influence democratic openings there,” Smith said.