Tags: cuba | travel | ban | dorgan

Dorgan, Enzi Seek End to Cuba Travel Ban

Monday, 12 Oct 2009 01:15 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., are seeking to end the 46-year-old ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, but, according to a report in The Hill, they may have taken on a real-life mission impossible.

Dorgan admits that as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, he has been stumped on just how to get the measure onto the Senate floor.

Some of the dynamics at play were recently explained in a release by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs:

  • Cuban tourism has faltered in recent years, and an end to the U.S. travel embargo appears to be the catalyst needed for significant growth in the tourism industry.

  • The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, seeking to lift all travel restrictions on the island, is supported by 60 to 67 percent of Americans and would likely result in one million tourists visiting the island within the first year.

  • The bill has thus far been stalled due to anti-Castro ideologues in key Committee positions and the precedence of the ongoing health care battle in Congress.

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    Furthermore, according to a recent Reuters report, the two key players in the diplomatic and political dance are preoccupied.

    President Barrack Obama has spoken of his desire to "recast" U.S. - Cuba relations, but he is grappling with the global recession, two wars and that critical battle over healthcare.

    Raul Castro, who assumed the presidency last year from his elder brother Fidel Castro, is struggling to revive and reform the Cuban economy that has been left reeling by the recession.

    Meanwhile, the measure they first introduced in March has attracted 32 co-sponsors, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, according to The Hill report.

    When asked about his tactics for getting the bill down the legislative pike, Dorgan said he is seeking a committee that can pass the legislation — or take it straight to the floor.

    “We have not yet found a way,” Dorgan said, according to The Hill report. “When we do, I guarantee we will have sufficient votes on the floor of the Senate to offer the American people the freedom they should have had in the last 50 or 60 years, and that is freedom to travel. In this case ... freedom has been taken from them and it is outrageous.”

    There is a general ambivalence about the bill among lawmakers, who while acknowledging that the present Cuban policy has been ineffective, are not quite ready to switch gears.

    “On the one hand, you don’t want to in some ways go easy on a regime that continues to be dictatorial and very brutal to their people,” said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., according to The Hill. “On the other hand, we’ve pursued this policy for 50 years, and it hasn’t led to the kind of change that we want for the people of Cuba.”

    In other reactions:

  • Foreign Relations Committee member Ted Kaufman, D-Del., said instead of outright lifting the ban, the Senate should huddle with the Chief Executive to develop a strategy. “Cuba’s complicated,” Kaufman said. “The government down there still treats freedom of the press terribly; they’re terrible with regard to dissidents. I think it’s got to be part of an administration initiative to look at all the parts and figure out what to do.”

  • For his part, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said the Cuban government has yet to correct end human-rights abuses. “I’ve been for the travel ban and like the previous administrations, I’ve always said if [Fidel] Castro would take a step toward us, we’d take a step toward them, including lifting the travel ban in whole or in part,” Lieberman said. “My first reaction, not having looked at the proposal, is that I’m against it.”

  • “I support the embargo against Cuba — we do not need to be opening up trade or expanding travel to a country that doesn’t respect human rights, that doesn’t respect a minority party,” said Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla. “They don’t have freedom of the press. They have political prisoners. I don’t believe in backing down to the Cubans.”

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