Washington, D.C. –U.S. Government restrictions will be eased on Americans who want to travel to Cuba if a measure added to the transportation appropriations bill by U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. and a bipartisan group of senators remains intact.
Enzi, Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Larry Craig, R-Idaho, Max Baucus, D-Mont. and others successfully offered an amendment to H.R. 2989, the Transportation Appropriations Act, that would restrict funding for the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for enforcement of certain travel restrictions. The amendment has the practical effect of allowing ordinary American citizens to travel to Cuba. Senators supported the amendment with a vote of 59-36 by defeating an attempt to table it.
In order for the travel restrictions to be lifted, the Senate must pass the transportation appropriations bill and the amendment must survive a conference committee that will iron out the Senate and House versions of the bill. The President must then sign the bill making it law. The House has already passed its version of the transportation bill, which contains identical language lifting the Cuba travel ban.
"The amendment we are debating today makes real change in our policy toward Cuba that will lead to real change for the people of Cuba. What better way to share the rewards of democracy than through people to people exchanges," said Enzi. "If the U.S. government continues on its current course to put an economic stranglehold on the Cuban government, the people of Cuba will surely suffer. Unilateral sanctions stop not just the flow of goods, but the flow of ideas. Ideas of freedom and democracy are the keys to positive change in any nation."
A copy of Enzi's written floor statement follows:
Statement on Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act
Senator Michael B. Enzi
October 23, 2003
Senator Michael B. Enzi
October 23, 2003
Mr. President. I rise in support of the amendment that would prohibit the use of federal funds to restrict the travel of Americans to Cuba.
I've been watching Cuba since the 1960s. I went to college here at George Washington University and was there at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. I've had the opportunity to watch what's happened with Cuba through the years and I'm reminded of something my dad used to say - if you keep on doing what you have always been doing, you're going to wind up getting what you already got.
That's kind of been the situation with Cuba. We've been trying the same thing for 40 years - over 40 years, and it hasn't worked. So I'm suggesting a small change to maybe get a few more people in there to increase conversation for people that understand the way the United States works and the way Cuba works and how they ought to drift more rapidly towards where we are.
Seventy-five Cuban citizens were arrested in the Spring and received harsh sentences, some for more than 20 years, all for the crime of yearning to be free. Once again, Castro demonstrated himself to be his own worst enemy when it comes to Cuba's image overseas. When faced with an outcry from around the world about his actions, he quickly tried to blame the United States for his own actions. It was a hard sell at best, and given the reactions we've seen from all sides of this issue, I don't think anyone bought it.
Still, Castro's cruelty has tempted some to tighten the already strong restrictions on the relations between our two countries, but I hope we will not do that. If we increase the diplomatic pressure on the Cuban government that is now emanating from every corner of the world, we might be successful in bringing about a better way of life for the Cuban people.
If, however, we stop Cuban-Americans from bringing financial assistance to their families in Cuba, and end the people to people exchanges that have been so successful, and stop the sale of agricultural and medicinal products to Cuba, we will not be hurting the Cuban government we will be hurting the Cuban people by diminishing their faith and trust in the United States and reducing the strength of the ties that bind the people of our two countries.
If we allow more and freer travel to Cuba, if we increase trade and dialogue, we take away Castro's ability to blame the hardships of the Cuban people on the United States. In a very real sense, the better we try to make things for the Cuban people, the more we will reduce the level and the tone of the rhetoric used against us by Fidel Castro.
As I mentioned before, it seems foolish to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. In a way, that is what we are doing in Cuba. We are continuing to try to exert pressure from our side and, as we do, we are giving Castro a scapegoat to blame for the poor living conditions in his country in the process.
The amendment before us today prevents the use of federal funds to restrict or enforce the travel ban to Cuba.
In 1958 the Supreme Court affirmed our Constitutional right to travel, but the U.S. government then prohibited Americans from spending money in Cuba. We simply said, okay, you have a right to travel, but try traveling without spending a dime.
Most of us know that certain people can and do continue to travel to Cuba. Cuban-Americans can apply for a license to travel for humanitarian reasons to visit ailing family members and such, but this is not always convenient. One of the reasons I became involved in this issue is because a Cuban-American from Jackson, Wyoming, had been in Cuba visiting his family, doing his one visit a year. As he left and was on the plane coming back to Wyoming, one of his parents died. He couldn't go back there for a year. This is not a good situation for any family. Educational groups can apply for licenses to travel for scholarly reasons like educational opportunities and conferences. Members of the U.S. Government can travel for fact-finding reasons. But for the average American, the process is too complicated.
Even with the proper licenses, the regulations on where you can go and who you can talk to are confusing, misleading, and frustrating. Each year the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) levies fines on travelers who followed the law to the best of their ability. Fines and punishments are imposed without guidelines and seemingly at the whim of a nameless bureaucrat.
I must ask my colleagues why we are continuing to support a policy that was basically implemented 40 years ago. Why are we supporting a policy that has had little effect on the government we oppose? Why don't we improve our policy so that it will improve conditions for the Cuban people and their image of the United States?
Unilateral sanctions will not improve human rights for Cuban citizens. The rest of the world isn't doing what we're doing. They're being supplied by the rest of the world for everything that they need. Open dialogue and exchange of ideas and commerce can move a country toward democracy.
The amendment we are debating today makes real change in our policy toward Cuba that will lead to real change for the people of Cuba. What better way to share the rewards of democracy than through people to people exchanges! We cannot stop that program. If the U.S. government continues on its current course to put an economic stranglehold on the Cuban government, the people of Cuba will surely suffer. Unilateral sanctions stop not just the flow of goods, but the flow of ideas. Ideas of freedom and democracy are the keys to positive change in any nation.
Some may ask why we want to increase dialogue right now, why open the door to Cuba when Castro is behaving so poorly. No one is denying that the actions of Castro and his government are deplorable, as is his refusal to provide basic human rights to his people. But if you truly believe that Castro is dictator with no good intentions, how can you say we should wait for him to behave before we engage. He controls the entire media there. The entire message that is coming out unless we have people interacting is his message. Keeping the door closed and hollering at Castro on the other side does nothing. Let's do something, let's open the door and talk to the Cuban people.
I encourage all of my colleagues to take a look at this amendment that has been introduced today. I know that there are people looking at it.
We've tried some bigger bites of the apple. They haven't worked. So we're moving back to the travel restrictions, a bill that is very limited. It allows you to travel and to have those things that are necessary for travel. For instance, you can't cut off the right to take baggage with you to Cuba. That's another way that the law can be subverted. It is a very straightforward travel policy that will get Americans into Cuba to talk to Cubans to promote the ideas that we believe in.
I ask my colleagues to support this amendment, and I yield the floor.