Congressional Bipartisan Bills for Reversal of U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba 

This year two bipartisan congressional bills have been filed to reverse two U.S. policies regarding Cuba. The most recent one would improve U.S. travel to the island while the other would abolish the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

Improve U.S. Travel to Cuba[1]

 On July 23, 2019, H.R. 3960 (Freedom for Americans To Travel to Cuba) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman James McGovern (Dem., MA) and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Relations and the next day to its Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs. It had 15 Democratic cosponsors–Kathy Castor (FL), Barbara Lee (CA), Jose Serrano (NY), Donald Beyer (VA), Jarred Huffman ( (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Peter Welch (VT), Karen Bass (CA), Eleanor Norton (D.C.), Ro Khanna (CA), Maxine Waters (CA), Janice Schakowsky (Il), James Ranking (MD), Eliot Engel (NY) and Donald Payne (NJ). They were joined by five Republicans so-sponsors–Tom Emmer (MN), Rick Crawford (AR), Darin LaHood (IL), Guy Reschenthaler (PA) and Denver Riggleman (VA).

 Representative McGovern said, “Every single American should have the freedom to travel as they see fit. Yet the travel ban deliberately punishes the American people – our very best ambassadors – and prevents them from engaging directly with the Cuban people. It is a Cold-War relic that serves only to isolate the United States from our allies and partners in the region, while strengthening the control of ideological hardliners in both countries.  It’s time for us to listen to the majority of Americans, Cuban-Americans, and Cubans who do not support the travel ban, and get rid of it once and for all.”

On July 29, Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and 46 cosponsors (40 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 2 Independents) introduced a companion bill in the Senate “so Americans can travel to Cuba in the same way that they can travel to every other country in the world except North Korea. . . .  It is indefensible that the federal government restricts American citizens and legal residents from traveling to a tiny country 90 miles away that poses no threat to us.  At a time when U.S. airlines are flying to Cuba, does anyone here honestly think that preventing Americans from traveling there is an appropriate role of the federal government?  Why only Cuba?  Why not Venezuela?  Or Russia?  Or Iran, or anywhere else?  It is a vindictive, discriminatory, self-defeating vestige of a time long passed.”

End U.S. Embargo of Cuba[2]

In February of this year U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) with co-sponsors Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY) introduced the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act of 2019 (S.428). Subsequent co-sponsors are Senators Tina Smith (Dem., MN) and Elizabeth Warren (Dem., MA). The bill was referred to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Conclusion

Given the split party-control of the two houses of Congress, not much is expected for any progress on these bills in this Session of Congress.

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[1] H.R, 3960, Freedom for Americans To Travel to Cuba Act of 2019; Rep. McGovern, McGovern Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to End Cuba Travel Ban (July 25, 2019); S.2303, Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019; Sen. Leahy, Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Freedom of Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 (July 29, 2019); Center for Democracy in Americas, CDA Applauds Reintroduction of the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 (July 25, 2019).

[2]  S.428—Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2019 (Feb. 7, 2019); New Bill To End U.S. Embargo, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 9, 2019); Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 18, 2019).

 

Small Chance of Liberalized U.S. Rules for Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

The U.S.-China trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has had a significant negative impact on U.S. agricultural exports to that country. In response, some U.S. senators and representatives have been pressing for relaxation of U.S. restrictions on such exports to Cuba. These advocates include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Tine Smith (Dem., MN)  and Representatives Collin Peterson (Dem., MN) and Tom Emmer, (Rep., MN). [1]

In addition, a bipartisan group of over 60 agricultural associations, businesses and elected officials from 17 states have urged the two congressional agriculture committees to include in the pending farm bills a provision to remove restrictions on private financing of U.S. agricultural exports to the island. [2]

This week Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel in New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly met separately with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem., OR), Rep. Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Rep. Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), Rep. Robin Kelly (Dem., IL) Rep. Gregory Meeks (Dem., NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KA). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.”

But legislation to expand such exports by allowing credit sales to Cuba did not make it into the pending farm bills in both houses of the Congress, and most observers and participants think chances are nil of such a provision being added. And Senator Heitkamp’s provision in the Senate bill to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use federal funds to develop the Cuban market could easily be cut from the bill in a conference committee.

The reason has more to do with politics than economics, according to Ted Piccone, a specialist in Latin American issues at the Brookings Institution. “It basically comes down to domestic politics in Florida,” Piccone said.

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[1] Spencer, Little appetite for effort to bolster ag trade with Cuba, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2018).

[2] Engage Cuba, Agriculture Groups Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision that Would Save $690 Million (Sept. 5, 2018).