Oppose Congressional Attempts To Restrict U.S. Travel to Cuba!

On April 28th the U.S. House Appropriations Committee released the draft of a bill that contains two provisions that would restrict U.S. travel to Cuba.[1]

The draft 155-page bill is titled “A BILL –Making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes.” The Committee’s summary of the bill says nothing about Cuba. Instead it says the bill would allocate $55.3 billion for “transportation, infrastructure and housing programs of national need and significance.”

One of the proposed restrictions is found in Section 193 of the draft bill (pp. 69-70), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to facilitate new scheduled air transportation originating from the United States if such flights would land on, or pass through, property confiscated by the Cuban Government, including property in which a minority interest was confiscated, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of 5 the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023 (4), (5), and 7 (12)(A)) [Helms-Burton Act] : Provided, That for this section, new scheduled air transportation shall include any flights not already regularly scheduled prior to March 31, 2015.”

The other proposed restriction is in Section 414 of the draft bill (p. 154), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Federal Maritime Commission or the Administrator of the Maritime Administration to issue a license or certificate for a commercial vessel that docked or anchored within the previous 180 days within 7 miles of a port on property that was confiscated, in whole or in part, by the Cuban Government, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023).[Helms-Burton Act].”

This draft bill was prepared by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, which is chaired by Rep. Mario Balart (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American who is a vocal opponent of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. The other Republican members of this subcommittee are John Culberson (TX), Evan Jenkins (WV), David Jolly (FL), David Joyce (OH), Kevin Yoder (KS), and David Young (IA). The Democrats on the Subcommittee are Henry Cuellar (TX). David Price (NC), Mike Quigley (IL) and Tim Ryan (OH).

Next week the full Appropriations Committee will debate and vote on this draft bill, and in June will debate and vote on an appropriations bill for worker training, education and health programs. According to the New York Times, “[l]awmakers expect at least one of them to fail on the House floor, forcing budget talks to resume again, this time with Mr. Obama at the table.”

The other Republican members of the Appropriations Committee are Robert Aderholt (AL); Mark Amodei (NE); John Beutier (WA); Ken Calvert (CA); John Carter (TX); Tom Cole (OK); Ander Crenshaw (FL); Charles Dent (PA); Chuck Fleischmann (TN); Jeff Fortenberry (NE); Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ); Kay Granger (TX); Tom Graves (GA); Andy Harris (MD); Steven Palazzo (MS); Scott Rigell (VA); Martha Roby (AL); Harold Rogers (KY), Chairman; Tom Rooney (FL); Michael Simpson (ID); Chris Stewart (UT); David Valadao (CA); and Steve Womack (AK).

The other Democrats on the full Committee are Sanford Bishop, Jr. (GA); Rosa DeLauro; Sam Farr (CA); Chaka Fattah (PA); Michael Honda (CA); Steve Israel (NY); Derek Kilmer (WA); Marcy Kaptur (OH); Barbara Lee (CA); Nin Lowery (NY); Betty McCollum (MN); Charles Pingree (ME); Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA); C.A. Ruppersberger (MD); José Serrano (NY); Peter Visclosky (IN); and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL).

Just looking at the names of the Democrats on the Committee reveals that at least the following are already on the record favoring U.S.-Cuba reconciliation and, therefore, should be opposed to the previously mentioned provisions that would restrict U.S. travel to Cuba: Rosa DeLauro, Sam Farr, Steve Israel, Barbara Lee, Betty McCollum and José Serrano.

I call for all supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation to contact members of the Appropriations Committee and urge them to delete the previously mentioned provisions and to oppose any other efforts to restrict U.S. travel to Cuba. Contact information for representatives is available at http://www.house.gov/representatives/#state_me.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: House Comm. on Appropriations, “A BILL –Making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes” (April 28, 2015); House Comm. on Appropriations, Appropriations Committee Releases the Fiscal 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill (April 28, 2015); Shabad, GOP spending bill would restrict travel to Cuba, The Hill (April 28, 2015); Weisman, Senate Passes Cost-Cutting Budget Plan, N.Y. Times (May 5, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Pelosi and Other House Democrats Visit Cuba

A delegation of Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives led by Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House, visited the island, February 17-19. They went “to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama” and “to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade.” [1]

The eight members of the delegation were David Cicilline (RI), member of the House foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees; Rosa DeLauro (CT), the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and Co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee;  Eliot Engel (NY), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Anna Eshoo (CA), Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications Technology; Steve Israel (NY), Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee; Jim McGovern (MA), member of the House Agriculture Committee and Co-Chair of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; Collin Peterson (MN), the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee; and Nydia Velazquez (NY), the senior Democrat on the House Small Business Committee. [2]

After their arrival in Cuba, they first went to the U.S. Interests Section’s building on Havana’s Malecon. There they met with the Chief of Mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and his team. “We are proud of them and the U.S. Marines serving us there,” Pelosi said. 

cuba-nancy-pelosi-bruno-rodriguezOn February 18th the delegation had a three and one-half hour meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez. and Josefina VIdal, the Foreign Ministry’s leader of the current negotiations with the U.S. (Left is a photograph of Pelosi and Rodriguez.) According to a Cuban website, they “discussed issues related to the current context of ties between the two countries, including restoring diplomatic relations, opening embassies and the debate in Congress on lifting the blockade [embargo] against Cuba.” Afterwards, Pelosi said, ““We discussed areas of interest to the United States and Cuba, and our delegation listened to their concerns, including the embargo, bank and credit financing,” Pelosi said. “We underscored our commitment to human rights in Cuba and agreed to build upon the historic opportunity before us to make progress in our relationship.”

Pelosi+Diaz

On the 19th Pelosi and the delegation met with Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s First Vice President and presumptive next Cuban president. (Right is a photograph of Pelosi and Diaz-Canel.) They talked about Cuba’s market-style economic reforms, bilateral relations and prospects of the U.S. Congress lifting the country’s 53-year-old trade embargo of Cuba. Afterwards Pelosi told reporters, “There is strong bipartisan support to lift the embargo in the Congress, however it’s not universal and it certainly does not appear to be shared by those in power who have the ability to bring a bill to the floor.”

The delegation also met with leaders of Cuba’s legislature (National Assembly), including its vice president, Ana María Mari Machado. According to Pelosi, “During the meeting, we exchanged views about the actions taken by President Obama and President Raúl Castro. We agreed to continue our interparliamentary dialogue on areas of agreement and disagreement.”

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Pelosi, Archbishop of Havana Cardinal Ortega and members of a delegation of congressional Democrats pose for a photograph in Havana

Other meetings were held with Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega (left is a photograph of the Cardinal and the delegation); American students at the Latin American School of Medicine; young entrepreneurs of the island’s emerging private sector; and representatives of civil society, but not with Cuban dissidents.

At a press conference on their last day on the island, Pelosi said, “We’re very positively impressed by what we heard here about our future prospects and the relationship.” Representative Engel noted they had raised the topic of human because “We’re very concerned with human rights and dissident rights. I’d like to see more changes from the Cuban side.”  Representative McGovern concurred with this comment: “The best way to promote human rights is to accelerate this new process to establish formal embassies in Havana and Washington.” The delegation also said they also spoken with Cuban officials about U.S. food sales to the island, internet technology and the island’s emerging small-business sector.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Press Release, Pelosi Leads Congressional Delegation to Cuba (Feb. 17, 2015); Reuters, Pelosi Traveling with Lawmakers to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 2015); Fram, Pelosi Leads House Democrats Visiting Cuba, Assoc. Press (Feb. 17, 2015); Press Release, Pelosi Statement on Historic Delegation’s Meetings in Havana (Feb. 18, 2015); Miller, Nancy Pelosi visits Havana, meets with top Castro regime officials, Wash. Times (Feb. 19, 2015); Oleaga, US, Cuba Relations Update: Representative Nancy Pelosi Leads congressional Delegation to Cuba, Hopes to Advance Renewed Relations, Latin Post (Feb. 19, 2015); Cuba FM Meets with Nancy Pelosi, Havana Times (Feb. 19, 2015); Cuban FM meets U.S. lawmakers on normalization of ties, Xinhua (Feb. 19, 2015); Trotta, U.S. congressional delegation meets Cuba’s heir apparent, Reuters (Feb. 19, 2015); Miroff, In Havana, Pelosi delegation promotes Obama’s Cuba thaw, Wash. Post (Feb. 19, 2015); Agence France-Presse, US-Cuba talks tackle human rights, reopening embassies (Feb. 19, 2015);Torres, Pelosi and other Democrats meet with Cuban officials in Havana, Miami Herald (Feb. 19, 2015); Miguel Diaz-Canel received the leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives of the US, Granma (Feb. 19, 2015); Nancy Pelosi: The lock [embargo] is a “measure unsuccessfully,” CubaDebate (Feb. 19, 2015)(English translation by Google Translate); Press Release, Pelosi Statement on Historic Congressional Delegation’s Final Day of Meetings in Cuba (Feb. 20, 2015).

[2] Representative Peterson is a cosponsor of H.R.403 (Free Trade with Cuba Act) while Representatives DeLauro, McGovern and Velazquez are cosponsors of H.R.664 (Export Freedom to Cuba Act of 2015).