More than a year after Fidel Castro handed the reins of power in Cuba to his brother Raul, bipartisan support is gathering in the U.S. Senate behind a bill that would lift the ban on all travel to the island nation.
During the presidential campaign last year, Barack Obama called for a “new strategy” on Cuba, and as president he recently lifted severe restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans with relatives there.
Obama is expected to further relax travel restrictions for all Americans before the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in mid-April, administration officials told The Washington Post.
Vice President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the U.S. is not planning to entirely lift its 47-year-old embargo on Cuba.
The new Senate bill on travel, meanwhile, has 18 co-sponsors, including eight Democratic committee chairmen, and is backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
There is also new legislation in the House to loosen trade restrictions on agricultural products, a move long advocated by farm-state Republicans.
Sen. Lugar released a report in February calling for significant changes in U.S. policy on Cuba, and wrote in a letter accompanying the report:
"Economic sanctions are a legitimate tool of U.S. foreign policy and they have sometimes achieved their aims, as in the case of apartheid in South Africa. After 47 years, however, the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of 'bringing democracy to the Cuban people,' while it may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba's impoverished population."
But a number of Cuban-Americans in Congress have opposed loosening restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, including Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In a speech from the Senate floor earlier this month, Menendez declared: "Over the years, millions of Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, South and Central Americans, among others, have visited Cuba, invested in Cuba, spent billions of dollars, signed trade agreements and engaged politically. And what has been the result of all of that money and all of that engagement? The regime has not opened up; on the contrary, it has used resources to become more oppressive."
But Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and a supporter of the Senate bill, said any efforts by Menendez and his allies to stall the bill will fail. He told The Post: “It’s sort of all over but the shouting, whether our country should maintain this embargo.”
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