Congressional Opponents of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation Accept Terrorism Rescission

On April 23 U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American, announced that congressional opponents of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation reluctantly had accepted President Obama’s decision to rescind the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” that was the subject of a prior post. [1]

She said that she and 35 other representatives had been preparing to draft a resolution opposing the rescission before a joint decision was made not to go forward. The reason was their conclusion that a “joint resolution to repeal President Obama’s de-listing of Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list would not have the far-ranging implications that many had assumed it would.” Legally, Ros-Lehtinen said, Congress cannot prevent the White House from taking Cuba off the list because not all the statutes that govern designation of a country as a state sponsor of terrorism provide a way for Congress to block a de-listing.

The Congressional Research Service and the State Department, on the other hand, earlier had said a joint resolution by both houses could block the rescission, provided the resolution withstood a veto by Mr. Obama.

Several analysts had cast doubt on whether there was enough support in Congress to try to block Mr. Obama’s decision. Indeed, Christopher Sabatini, a scholar of U.S.-Cuba relations at Columbia University, suggested that the Republicans’ legal review provided cover for the possibility that the votes to oppose rescission were not there.

“This was the hard-liners’ white flag,” Mr. Sabatini said. “They had been planning to present a piece of legislation in the allotted 45 days to overturn the removal of Cuba from the list, but couldn’t get a majority. Rather than risk looking even more isolated, they abandoned it.”

Nevertheless, according to Ros-Lehtinen, she and the other 35 representatives “are concentrating our efforts on promoting legislation that will hold the Castro regime accountable for its nefarious activities. We plan to file broader legislation regarding Cuba that will help ensure that U.S. national security is protected and that our country continues to advocate for human rights on the island. Removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list does not truly lift significant sanctions as many sanctions remain codified in law.”

A week earlier just such a bill, the Cuban Human Rights Act of 2015 (H.R.1782) was introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Smith (Rep., NJ), the chair of the House global human rights subcommittee; the cosponsors (as of April 23) are Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep.,FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL), Albio Sires (Dem.,NJ), Carlos Curbelo (Rep., FL), Leonard Lance (Rep., NJ),Tom MacArthur (Rep., NJ), Mark Meadows (Rep., NC), Rodney Frelinghuysen (Rep., NJ), Frank LoBiondo (Rep., NJ), Peter King (Rep., NY) and Dana Rohrsbacher (Rep., CA).

According to the official summary, H.R.1782 expresses the sense of Congress that the U.S.-Cuba relationship should not be changed, nor should any federal law or regulation be amended, until the government of Cuba ceases violating the human rights of the people of Cuba; the U.S. should overcome the jamming of radio and television signals of the Radio y Television Marti by the government of Cuba, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors should not cut staffing, funding, or broadcast hours for Radio y Television Marti; if certain human rights conditions are not met the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. should oppose and encourage other U.N. members to oppose Cuba’s continued membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council; and the annual Stae Department trafficking-victims report to Congress should include an in-depth analysis of the facilitation of or involvement in severe forms of human trafficking by any official of the government of Cuba or of companies wholly or partially owned by the government of Cuba.

On the other hand, the summary says the bill may not be construed as: prohibiting the donation of food to nongovernmental organizations or individuals in Cuba; restricting the export of medicine or medical supplies to Cuba, or abrogating any requirement that such exports be verified in conformity with the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 or any other applicable federal law; or prohibiting or restricting any other form of assistance specified in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, including telecommunications, mail, and support for democracy.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Ros-Lehtinen, Press Release: Any Legislation Regarding Cuba Must Be Substantive and Have Significant Legal Effect (April 23, 2015); Archibold, Cuba Moves Closer to Exit U.S. Terror List, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2015); Whitefield, Republicans won’t challenge Cuba’s removal from terrorism list, Miami Herald (April 23, 2015); Whitefield, Cuba human rights bill introduced; State says Cuba will talk about return of fugitives, Miami Herald (April 15, 2015); Chris Smith, Press Release: Bill to Promote Cuban Human Rights introduced in House of Representatives, (April 15, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senator Klobuchar Introduces Bill To End Embargo of Cuba

Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Amy Klobuchar

On February 12, 2015, Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced S.491: Freedom to Export to Cuba Act. Its five cosponsors are Senators Richard Durbin (Dem., IL). Mike Enzi (Rep., WY),  Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Debbie Stabenow (Dem, MI). The bill was referred to the Senate’s   (a) Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and (b) Foreign Relations Committees.

                        Comments on S.491

Senator Klobuchar’s press release said the bill would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and thereby pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allowing Cubans greater access to American goods. The legislation repeals key provisions of previous laws that block Americans from doing business in Cuba, but does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government. [1]

This press release also stated, “It’s time to the turn the page on our Cuba policy. Fifty years of the embargo have not secured our interests in Cuba and have disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce with a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores. There are many issues in our relationship with Cuba that must be addressed, but this legislation to lift the embargo will begin to open up new opportunities for American companies, boost job creation and exports, and help improve the quality of life for the Cuban people.” [2]

She subsequently told a Minnesota newspaper, “There’s been a sea change in terms of how people are thinking about Cuba. I think it’s really important to get people from the Midwest involved. Our interests are different than some of the other people traditionally involved in this issue. … We come at it from a production perspective, from the perspective of wanting to sell things there.” [3]

Klobuchar’s bill was endorsed by the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba. Its Chair, Devry Boughner Vorwerk of Cargill Incorporated, said, “We appreciate Sen. Klobuchar’s leadership to advance this bipartisan bill, modernize U.S. policy toward Cuba and boost opportunities for American agriculture. Ending the embargo will enable our agriculture sector to work in partnership with Cuba and the Cuban people, develop a meaningful trading relationship and create jobs across many sectors of our own economy.”

Internal Senate Political Concerns

As previously mentioned S.491 was referred to two committees: the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee, each of which presents problems for successful passage of the bill. [4]

The Banking Committee has 12 Republican and 10 Democratic members. Its Chair is Richard Shelby (Rep., AL) while its Ranking Member is Sherrod Brown (Dem., OH). With two and maybe three exceptions, my initial impression is that the Republican majority will be opposed to the bill while the Democrats will support the bill. The two exceptions are Republican Jerry Moran (KS), who supports ending the embargo, and Democrat Robert Menendez (NJ), who opposes such action. The other possible exception is Republican Bob Corker (TN), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who issued a noncommittal statement about the December 17th rapprochement.[5]

The Foreign Relations Committee has 10 Republican and nine Democratic members. Its Chair is the previously mentioned Bob Corker (Rep., TN) and its Ranking Member is Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ). With three and maybe four exceptions, my initial impression is that the Republican majority, including Marco Rubio (FL), a Cuban-American who strongly and repeatedly opposes reconciliation, will oppose the bill while the Democratic minority will support the measure. The exceptions are Republicans Jeff Flake (AZ) and Rand Paul (KY), who have supported ending the embargo, and Democrat Menendez, a Cuban-American who vehemently opposes reconciliation with Cuba, including ending the embargo. The possible exception is Chair Corker, who has issued a noncommittal statement on the rapprochement. Thus, it is conceivable that there could be a 10-9  (or even a 11-8) vote approving the bill in committee. But if it does not also get out of the Banking Committee, that probably means very little.

These internal Senate political considerations prompted Klobuchar to acknowledge to the Minnesota newspaper that the Foreign Relations Committee’s obstacles for the bill “are clearly something to be reckoned with … but it doesn’t mean that two people [Senators Rubio and Menendez] can stop the whole thing.” She added that the legislation could come up through the Banking. Housing and Urban Affairs Committee or be passed in piecemeal fashion through other bills.

Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson, who is a cosponsor of a companion bill (H.R.403) in the House of Representatives, also talked to the Minnesota newspaper about the political difficulties of passing such measures. Indeed, he called the odds of lifting the embargo this year as “thin” due to the political sway of the older generation of Cuban-Americans in certain congressional districts.

Peterson thought the elimination of the embargo will “help [Minnesota farmers] a little bit” by increasing demand and, therefore, farm prices, “but it’s marginal in the whole scheme of things.”

Conclusion

I thank and congratulate Senator Klobuchar for introducing this important bill and the six other senators for cosponsoring the bill. 

I conclude by adding the following three reasons for ending the embargo that I have not seen elsewhere:

1. Without the embargo, the U.S. would not face the annual fall nearly unanimous condemnation of the embargo by the U.N. General Assembly.

2. The elimination of the embargo might assist the U.S. in combatting the increasing Chinese and Russian influence in Latin America.

3. Cuba repeatedly has claimed that the embargo has caused damage to its economy, and at last Fall’s U.N. General Assembly meeting Cuba asserted the total damages were $1.1 trillion. That obviously is a very large amount of money. I am confident that in any litigation or arbitration over such a claim the U.S. would mount a thorough critique and arguments to rebut the claim, including evidence and argument that any alleged damages were caused by Cuban ineptitude and that the major premise of the argument (the illegality of the embargo under international law) was unfounded. Nevertheless, as is true in any disputed claim like this, there can be no 100% guarantee that the claim will be rejected in its entirety. Thus, this damage claim must be recognized as a contingent liability of the U.S., and ending the embargo will minimize the amount of that liability.

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[1] On January 15th the Congressional Research Service issued CRS Report 4388: “Cuba Sanctions: Legislative Restrictions Limiting the Normalization of Relations” In a 15-page table it “lists the various provisions of laws comprising economic sanctions on Cuba, including key laws that are the statutory basis of the embargo, and provides —on the authority to lift or waive these restrictions.”

[2] Similar press releases were issued by Senators Durbin and Leahy.

[3]  Sherry, Sen. Klobuchar leads effort in U.S. Senate to life Cuba trade embargo, StarTribune (Feb. 13, 2015).

[4] The THOMAS legislative service of the Library of Congress late on February 12th said the bill was referred to both of these committees, but on February 13th it said it was only referred to the Banking Committee. Since the embargo clearly relates to foreign relations, I assume the latter THOMAS version is incorrect.

[5] Research-backed comments and corrections on the positions regarding Cuba by the members of these committees are solicited and welcome.