New Senate Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba

Senator Jerry Moran
Senator Jerry Moran
Senator Angus King
Senator Angus King

On June 10, 2015, Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS) introduced S.1543 Cuba Trade Act of 2015 to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. With Senator Angus King (Ind., ME) as the cosponsor, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which has not taken any action on S.491, the bill to end the embargo that was introduced in February by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) that was discussed in a prior post.

More specifically, S.1543 repeals restrictions on trade with Cuba under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

In addition, S.1543 has provisions whereby the federal government may not obligate or expend any funds to promote trade with or develop markets in Cuba, except for certain commodity promotion programs. These were important provisions. Moran’s office called them “taxpayer protection provisions” that observers see as ways to win over reluctant Republicans support for ending the embargo.

Senator Moran’s press release [1] said the bill “would grant the private sector the freedom to export U.S. goods and services to Cuba while protecting U.S. taxpayers from any risk or exposure associated with such trade.” Cuba, Senator Moran stated, was “a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. By lifting the embargo and opening up the market for U.S. agricultural commodities, we will not only boost the U.S. economy but also help bring about reforms in the repressive Cuban government. I am hopeful that increasing the standard of living among Cuban citizens will enable them to make greater demands on their own government to increase individual and political rights.”[2]

Senator King added, “For far too long, the Cuban people and American businesses have suffered at the hands of an antiquated trade embargo. . . . The Cuba Trade Act would finally end our outdated embargo policy and establish a new economic relationship with Cuba that will support increased trade for American businesses and help the Cuban economy and its people to flourish.”

Moran’s press release also observed, “Nearly 150 U.S. organizations have voiced their strong support for commonsense reforms related to U.S.-Cuba relations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Farmers Union.”

I hope that having a Republican author of a bill to end the embargo and this bill’s taxpayer protection provisions will enhance the chances of this Republican-controlled Senate endorsing the ending of the embargo. And then enhance the chances of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives doing the same.

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[1] Senator King issued a similar press release.

[2] In early January Senator Moran spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the early January 2015 launching of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba that favors ending the embargo.

Update on Proposed U.S. Legislation Supporting U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

There are 13 pending measures in this Session of Congress that are supportive of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, but as of May 25th no substantive action has been taken on any of these measures. Details on these measures can be found on the Library of Congress THOMAS service.

 Ending the Embargo.

There is one Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba: S.491 “Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2015” authored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) with 10 cosponsors, it was assigned to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. A prior post discussed this bill and erroneously stated that it also was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The House has three similar bills: H.R.274 “United States-Cuba Normalization Act of 2015” authored by Rep. Bobby Rush (Dem., IL) with no cosponsors; H.R.403 “Free Trade with Cuba Act” authored by Rep. Charles Rangel (Dem., NY) with 28 cosponsors; and H.R.735 “Cuba Reconciliation Act” authored by Rep. Jose Serrano (Dem., NY) with 12 cosponsors. All of them were referred to the following seven House committees: Foreign Affairs; Ways and Means; Energy and Commerce; Judiciary; Financial Services; Oversight and Government Reform; and Agriculture. A prior post discussed the first two of these bills.

 Expanding Certain U.S. Trade with Cuba.

Perhaps in recognition of the current political difficulty of passing legislation for a complete end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba, there are pending bills to expand certain U.S. trade with Cuba: exports of U.S. agricultural, medical products, consumer communication devices and telecommunications services and imports of the services of Cuban baseball players.

S.1049 “Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015” is authored by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND) with 9 cosponsors. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Unrelated to this bill was an April 21st hearing on expanding U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The House has a similar and broader bill: H.R.635 “Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2015” authored by Rep. Charles Rangel (Dem., NY) with 27 cosponsors. It was referred to the following five House committees: Foreign Affairs; Ways and Means; Judiciary; Agriculture; and Financial Services; and the Judiciary Committee in turn referred it to its Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

S.1389 “A bill to authorize exportation of consumer communication devices to Cuba and the provision of telecommunications services to Cuba, and for other purposes” authored by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) with 5 cosponsors. It was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

H.R.736 “Baseball Diplomacy Act” authored by Rep. Jose Serrano (Dem., NY) with 14 cosponsors. It would facilitate the hiring of Cuban professional baseball players by U.S. teams. It was assigned to the House committees on Foreign Affairs and on the Judiciary, and the latter in turn referred it to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

 Expanding U.S. Travel to Cuba.

The Senate has S.299 “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015” authored by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) with 36 cosponsors. It was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The House has two similar bills: H.R.634 “Export Freedom to Cuba Act of 2015” authored by Rep. Charles Rangel (Dem., NY) with 27 cosponsors; and H.R.664 “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015” authored by Rep. Mark Sanford (Rep., SC) with 29 cosponsors. Both of them were referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which in turn referred them to its Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

 Abolition of Radio MARTI and Television MARTI.

 The House has a bill on this topic: H.R.570 “Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act” authored by Rep. Betty McCollum (Dem., MN) with 4 cosponsors. It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Commending Pope Francis for Assisting U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Senator Richard Durbin (Dem., IL) with 11 cosponsors introduced S.Res.26 “A resolution commending Pope Francis for his leadership in helping to secure the release of Alan Gross and for working with the Governments of the United States and Cuba to achieve a more positive relationship.” It was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Conclusion

U.S. Citizens who support President Obama’s courageous decision to seek reconciliation with Cuba should contact their Senators and Representatives in Congress to urge them to support the above measures, especially those to end the embargo and expand travel.

A subsequent post will examine pending measures in this Session of Congress that oppose or interfere with such reconciliation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.