U.S. Congress considers lifting Cuba travel ban

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Senator Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming
Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota

In the United States Senate on Tuesday, Senators Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, and Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming, introduced the "Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act" (S.428), a bill that would lift the travel restrictions that have prevented U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba since the early 1960s. The bill is co-sponsored by 20 senators, and the House of Representatives is considering a companion measure, H.R. 874, introduced by Representatives Bill Delahunt and Jeff Flake. The House measure has 121 cosponsors.

Senator Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, spoke in favor of the bill, saying that the United States' embargo on Cuba had "failed to achieve its stated purpose of bringing democracy to the Cuban people."

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat and a second generation Cuban-American, opposes the bill, arguing that free travel by Europeans, Canadians and the citizens of other Latin American countries has not helped to democratize the island nation. "The regime has not opened up," said Sen. Menendez. "On the contrary, it has used resources to become more oppressive."

The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Cuba since 1961, and has maintained a trade embargo on the country since 1962. President Barack Obama has spoken in favor of changing U.S. policy towards Cuba, but has not offered specific details.

The United States Chamber of Commerce issued a press release supporting the bill. "The US embargo on Cuba is a 50-year failure, and lifting the ban on travel is a good first step toward a more rational policy," said Myron Brilliant, an officer of the organization. Other organizations issuing press releases in support of the bill include the U.S. Rice Producers Association and the non-profit Center for Democracy in the Americas.