March 31, 2009

"The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act"

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has been an abject failure for almost fifty years. With many American lawmakers coming to this conclusion, Senators are introducing The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act in an attempt to take the first step at dismantling a failed policy reversing what has amounted to a ban on travel to the country.

I wrote an
 essay examining possible changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba. I've been a supporter of Barack Obama (not only in spirit and attire like many here, but also by volunteering and voting for him) in part due to his new look on foreign policy. This new, Canadian approach to looking at U.S. Government and Politics at Mount Allison has served to further validate my belief that the U.S. policy on Cuba, among various other failed policies is in need of change.

Senators see support to end Cuba travel ban

Tue Mar 31, 2009 3:45pm EDT

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill on Tuesday to allow U.S. citizens to travel freely to Cuba and predicted Congress would approve it as a step toward ending the five-decade-old U.S. embargo.

"I think we've finally reached a new watermark here on this issue," Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said during a news conference. "I think there's sufficient votes in both the House (of Representatives) and the Senate to finally get it passed and get it to the president."

Dorgan, whose home state of North Dakota could benefit from increased agricultural sales to Cuba, introduced the bill along with fellow Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd and Republican Senators Richard Lugar and Mike Enzi. Seventeen other senators also are sponsoring the measure.

But congressional opponents of any move to ease the embargo promised a tough fight to keep this measure from becoming law.

"This is the time to support pro-democracy activists in Cuba, not provide the Castro regime with a resource windfall," Senator Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican who was the first Cuban-American elected to the Senate, said in a statement.

President Barack Obama said during last year's presidential campaign he favored easing U.S. restrictions on family travel to Cuba and the sending of cash to family members.

But he stopped short of supporting the lifting of the trade embargo, even as an increasing number of U.S. lawmakers believe it has proven ineffective in forcing change in Cuba's communist-run government.

Vice President Joe Biden told reporters "no" when asked in Chile on Saturday whether the United States would lift the embargo, as many in Latin American favor.

Obama is expected to face pressure from regional leaders to improve U.S. relations with Cuba when he travels to Trinidad in mid-April for the Summit of the Americas meeting.

The United States expanded an arms embargo on Cuba in 1962 to include other goods after the Cuban government under the leadership of Fidel Castro seized the properties of American companies doing business on the island. The Cold War-era restrictions were codified into law by Congress in 1992.

Efforts to loosen the embargo remain politically difficult because of the influence of Cuban-American exiles living in Florida, a state often important in determining the outcome of presidential elections.

Dodd told reporters there were too few votes in Congress to end the embargo completely. "My sense at this point is that's a step too far," Dodd said.

U.S. farm and business groups promised to lobby hard for removal of the travel restrictions.

"Allowing unrestricted travel to Cuba will increase U.S. agricultural sales and boost tourism," American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said.

The United States currently sells about $400 million worth of rice, wheat, poultry and other agricultural goods annually to Cuba under a 2000 law to loosen the embargo.

"The U.S. embargo on Cuba is a 50-year failure, and lifting the ban on travel is a good first step toward a more rational policy," said Myron Brilliant, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Will Dunham)