Saturday, July 27, 2013

Conflicting House and Senate Bills Restrict and Expand Travel

The prevailing belief in Washington is that the President will force removal of the House Appropriations Committee anti-travel language as he did last time.  While I think that is likely, I strongly believe a passive approach is a mistake.

Given the contentious relations between the President and the House of Representatives manifested in the current budget crisis and partial shut down of the US government, it is risky to assume anything about Obama's influence or willingness to use it.  If the President's diplomatic strategy with Syria and Iran succeeds, I am more optimistic, but he cannot control all of the forces in play.

The President is more likely to act to protect existing opportunities for travel, and even to go further in use of his authority, if he senses there is a grass roots movement supporting him! 
While activist groups will at least endorse his action to save travel, by ourselves we have too little impact.  The Travel Service Providers and People to People licensees must also mobilize their clients.  These companies have financial resources based on profits from work with Cuba.   More importantly they have in their data bases the e-mail addresses of virtually all legal travelers to Cuba since the President partially opened the door, the people most likely to express an informed and motivated opinion. 

At a minimum every TSP and P2P for its own economic self-interest, if for no other reason, should inform people to people clients of the legislative threat to the kind of trip they made to Cuba and ask them to contact their Representatives and Senators, with a copy to the White House.  (Because of the high cost of people to people trips many participants are upper-middle class with potential political experience and influence.)

It would be nice if TSPs and P2Ps also endorsed the idea of a general license for all purposeful non-tourist travel, and the elimination of  required Travel Service Providers, but that seems less likely for short term reasons even though it would greatly expand the number of US visitors.

Current general license travelers (Cuban Americans, universities, religious organizations) do not have the same self-interested reason for concern but will be sympathetic.  The only systematic way to reach them is through TSP lists.

The Senate Appropriations Bill contains positive language that could allow a limited amount of US organized conferences and conventions in Cuba but it will presumably be removed if the House language is.  Nevertheless, it shows an idea is in play which could open new channels of engagement.  A general license for all purposeful travel ought to allow any US group to organize conferences in Cuba as well as permit Americans to freely attend Cuban conferences.

John McAuliff

Petition text:

Protect our right to visit Cuba with "people-to-people" programs, just like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Open the door wider by extending to all Americans a general license for non-tourist purposeful travel.

Sign the petition here and please circulate this link to personal and organizational lists:


Senate Appropriations Bill

§ 7209. Requirements relating to certain travel-related trans-
actions with Cuba
(a) * * *
* * * * * * *
(b) Prohibition on travel relating to tourist activities
* * * * * * *
(c) The Secretary of the Treasury shall promulgate regulations
authorizing by general license the travel related and other trans-
actions ordinarily incident to professional research by full-time pro-
fessionals and their staff; attendance at professional meetings or
conferences in Cuba if the sponsoring organization is a United
States professional organization; and the organization and manage-
ment of professional meetings and conferences in Cuba if the spon-
soring organization is a United States professional organization, if
such travel is related to disaster prevention, emergency prepared-
ness, and natural resource protection, including for fisheries, coral
reefs, and migratory species.

House Appropriations Bill

SEC. 124. None of the funds made available in this
20 Act may be used to approve, license, facilitate, authorize,
21 or otherwise allow, whether by general or specific license,
22 travel-related or other transactions incident to non-aca-
23 demic educational exchanges described in section
24 515.565(b)(2) of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations.
1 SEC. 125. The Secretary of the Treasury shall pro-
2 vide a report not later than 90 days after the enactment
3 of this Act regarding travel pursuant to sections
4 515.560(a)(1), 515.560(c)(4)(i), and 515.561 of title 31,
5 Code of Federal Regulations. Such report shall include,
6 for each fiscal year beginning with 2007 under the afore-
7 mentioned category of travel: number of travelers; average
8 duration of stay for each trip; average amount of U.S. dol-
9 lars spent per traveler; number of return trips per year;
10 and total sum of U.S. dollars spent collectively in each
11 fiscal year


The Executive Committee of CAFE, Cuban Americans for Engagement, would like to express our severe dismay over the recent language introduced by representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) to the House Financial Services Appropriations Bill for the fiscal year 2014 that would reverse important advancements in U.S.-Cuba relations.

 The language contained in sections 124 and 125 of the bill, which was passed by the full committee on Wednesday, would adversely affect two major policy changes of the Obama administration that have brought about improvements in the relations between the citizens of both nations over the past four years.

Section 124 would effectively dismantle the "people-to-people" licensing program, allowing American citizens to travel to Cuba for educational purposes, by defunding the program. These licenses have allowed U.S. citizens to legally visit Cuba and experience the island first-hand, ending their reliance on the skewed portrayals of Cuban reality by either the U.S. government or the corporate-controlled media.

 These visits have also allowed Cuban citizens to interact with average U.S. citizens and to discover that most people in the U.S. desire normal relations with their Cuban neighbors. These educational exchanges have served to reinforce the similarities of both peoples and to express our shared interests.

The provisions in section 125 are particularly disturbing because they negatively affect thousands of Diaz-Balart's own constituents and their families in Cuba by requiring OFAC to monitor and report details on Cuban American travel to Cuba and on all remittances carried to Cuba, whether by Cuban Americans or others.

 These remittances that have been taken to Cuba in the past years have helped to bolster the nascent mixed economy and allow Cubans on the island to start and maintain small businesses. Without these much needed investments Cubans wouldn't be able to participate in this new paradigm. The regulations imposed by this legislation would require a costly and intrusive monitoring system and would ultimately lead to diminished monetary support for the limited, yet increasing, free enterprise that is now possible in Cuba and less humanitarian and other donations to Cuba's religious NGOs.

 It is extremely hypocritical and downright un-American of Diaz-Balart and the Republican controlled Appropriations committee to discourage Cuban Americans from taking advantage of the economic reforms taking place in Cuba. These are the same public figures that decry the communist, authoritarian government's control over the economy. These remittances have been the lifeblood of recent reforms in Cuba and Diaz-Balart's shortsighted and malicious attempt to curtail such funds is an affront to the American way of life.

 CAFE will join others in fighting to keep this hateful language from ever making it to the president's desk and we hope that Diaz-Balart's mean-spirited tactics will be met with negative results at the polls on Election Day in November of 2014. Diaz-Balart's attempt to control the American citizenry's right to travel and sabotage his own constituent's efforts to contribute to the welfare of their extended communities in Cuba is a disgusting act of political posturing that shouldn't be accepted by any sector of the American government or society.

 CAFE advocates an end to the unconstitutional restrictions on travel to Cuba imposed by the U.S. Congress and exhorts the U.S. State Department to at least, in the mean time, establish a single general license to cover all currently permissible categories of travel to Cuba. We also support the unlimited investment by Cuban Americans in Cuba and the end to the embargo that prohibits individuals and companies subject to U.S. jurisdiction from most trade and economic transactions with the island.

1 comment:

  1. We Canadians are rather tired of hearing about this issue in the US, given that we have never interfered with normal travel arrangements to Cuba for all Canadians. It actually amazes us that the US persists with its cold war mentality and that, unlike the rest of the democratic world, the people of the US accept this restriction on their liberties. Idiots!