Another showdown over Cuba travel likely

cuba travel

By Tony Martinez

The U.S. Congress is presently in its annual August recess.  Before it recessed, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that would dramatically curtail legal U.S. Cuba travel basically eliminating the People to People category of travel.  The effort is led by pro embargo hardliner Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl). Much to the chagrin of the pro travel side of the U.S. Cuba policy debate, the current political calculus actually favors that this restrictive bill will pass the Congress and head for another showdown with the White House in the fall.

The GOP led House will likely pass the measure and send it to the U.S. Senate. In a bipartisan fashion, Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fl) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will ensure its passage there.

Politically, who is going to expend any political capital preserving people to people travel to Cuba? That is the part that escapes the Cuba travel/end the embargo side of the issue; the lack of commitment and the failure to be proactive and develop real political capital; the votes and money to defeat the likes of the hardliners in Congress and at the ballot box.  The only political capital is on the pro-embargo/restrictions side of the issue.  And that’s the problem.

For as the sun rises every day, you can bet that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl) will do whatever is in his power to frustrate or interrupt any effort that normalizes U.S. relations or travel with Cuba. This is the annual hardline gauntlet you can expect to be thrown in each Congress.

For Mario, this is a personal crusade and a score to settle with his Castro family relatives in Cuba. His Uncle Fidel removed Mario’s father, the late Rafael Diaz Balart, from power in the Batista dictatorship. So this is not just about democracy and freeing Cuba for the veteran Congressman. However, revenge is always a bad context for foreign policy and diplomacy.

Ever wonder why the embargo and travel restrictions still have achieved nothing other than hurt the United States and Cuba alike? The question to keep asking Mr. Diaz Balart is just how an embargo and travel restrictions will ever bring positive change to Cuba.

So what to do about Congressman Diaz Balart? Well he is in a politically safe congressional district. Re-elected with just over 67 percent of the vote in 2012, the Congressman can safely continue to take his hardline position without any perceived electoral reprisal, which is the only thing he will ever pay attention to. One glimmer of hope lies in a group called Cuban Americans for Engagement or CAFÉ. This group of moderate Cuban Americans has organized to support lifting all the travel restrictions and normalization of relations. The challenge however is how to support this important group to be more politically active beyond its public statements.

Lifting the travel restrictions and ending the embargo each will require an Act of Congress. President Obama is not likely going to expand Cuba travel licensing beyond what has already been done. What is the political gain for him and supporters in Congress? As long as there is a political void on the pro travel/engagement side of the U.S. Cuba Policy equation, guess which side will keep winning?

When posed with the question what can be done politically about a pro-embargo hardliner, the answer can be found by following the rules of Politics 101. Target the politician for electoral defeat and make it happen by raising money for the opponent and registering enough new voters to place the incumbent’s plurality of victory into question for the next election.

The other part to this strategy is to start taking credit for electing people to Congress.  Show that your bloc of votes matter and your money is being sent to support and elect committed allies in Congress. This is where this nascent Cuban American moderate majority must head towards if they are going to be effective and there is ever going to be a change in U.S. policy with Cuba led by them. When this happens, watch how quickly things will change in Congress.  Congress returns to session in September. People to people travel may very well become another pumpkin this fall.

Tony Martinez is an attorney who lives in New York. He has fought for a fairer U.S.-Cuba policy for years. He has also been a good friend to Progreso Weekly from the start. 

(From Photo from Cuba en Fotos)

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9 Responses to Another showdown over Cuba travel likely

  1. It is time to end the embargo and travel restrictions. The Cuban people deserve to live the way they want and with the government they want without interference. It will also give Cuban socialism the opportunity to show how much they can advance the welfare of the Cuban people by providing them with good housing and better living conditions.

  2. Dear Progreso Weekly,

    I just returned from a ten day visit to Cuba. I can tell you that my goodwill photojournalist trip did more good than Diaz-Balart’s embargo has done ever.

    Stop the hatred !!!!!!!!

    Abrazos Fuertes,

    Larry Benvenuti
    Marathon, Florida

  3. The folks who have the potential to act are the People to People licensees, Travel Service Providers and charter airlines They have a real stake in defeating this legislation, and the serious financial resources accumulated from business with Cuba.

    Most importantly that have e-mail lists of hundreds of thousands of Americans who have traveled with them to Cuba, the one constituency that is guaranteed to really care about this issue..

    What are Marazul, Cuba Travel Services, XAEL, Wilson, Gulfstream, Island Travel and Tours, Insight Cuba, etc. doing to mobilize opinion?

    Why is Rep. Joe Garcia who received substantial contributions from pro-travel folks not raising a ruckus? CAFE has pointed out how family travel will also be crippled by this legislation.

    While Tony is right that at the end of the day money and votes count most, but constituent pressure does make a difference, especially when two-thirds of Americans favor unrestricted travel.

    If one of your Senators is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, try to see him or her during the recess at an in-state event, including fund-raisers, urging that such language stay out of the Senate bill and be removed in conference, or call their Washington and local offices. The list is here:

    An easy step for everyone to take is to sign this petition which will go to the entire House and Senate and to the President.

    It is time for President Obama to end this game by granting all non-tourist purposeful travel a general license.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

  4. The Senate has already passed their version of the approps bill and it does NOT contain matching language… to the contrary, it contains language that would slightly broaden travel. I think that is a pretty good sign that the anti-travel stuff will not make it through conference, even IF the bill itself does, and that’s a big IF!

    Still, your point is accurate. These hateful maneuvers continue in Congress and a new approach to changing policy is ESSENTIAL!

    • Thank you Kendra. I hope you’re right. Still, Tony makes good points. In other words, their side is much better organized than we are. And part of that organization includes money. Surely, I can’t stand that aspect of American politics. But folks, it’s a reality. The other side of the coin (which he mentions) is registering and electing our own candidates. If we mobilize on those two ends slowly but surely, then, we can turn this thing around.
      Alvaro Fernandez

    • That is good news. Can you provide a link to the language in the Senate version?

      I think it is better to use this threat as a way of mobilizing support for sustaining and broadening travel than to assume it will die in conference.

  5. The fact that there are differing bills in the House and Senate only means that there will be a House Senate Conference. While Senators Rubio and Menendez are not conferees, that does not mean they will not weigh in to remove the Senate language and keep the House language. As a member, Mario Diaz-Balart is likely to be a House conferee. They will fall on their swords to keep the offensive language. Who is going to fall on their political swords to remove it? Then there is the issue of money and the lesson that the U.S. Cuba “Democracy” PAC provides. They have contributed to other members of the Appropriations Committee over the years. So again my prognosis as to which version survives, the House or the Senate, the calculus still favors the House anti travel language. Some have argued that the White House will insist that Mario’s language be removed from the Conference Report. Respectfully, I do not believe President Obama will use his veto authority to get rid of a provision that adversely affects Cuba travel. Count on pro-embargo DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (and Diaz Balart buddy) to ride over this issue at the White House and weigh in on the President. Again, the pro-travel side has no political capital to put up due to their negligence on political action. Votes and money folks. Only votes and money folks. The pro-embargo side shows up with theirs. The pro-travel side chooses not to show. Who is likely to win?

  6. “la recompensa de una buena accion, esta en haberla hecho”

    todos los congresistas que se oponen, me gustaria oir de ellos, una buena explicacion, y no
    la misma boberia de los intereses creados y tanto que se gastan.

    Gracias, Olga

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