For half a century, the United States has banned American tourists and agricultural products from traveling to Cuba.
But those barriers may soon be lifted by Congress — and Wyoming’s congressional delegation is helping to lead the way.
Legislation to loosen trade and travel restrictions to the communist nation might be closer than ever before to becoming law. Late last month, a bill to end the travel ban and relax agricultural trade restrictions cleared a major hurdle when it passed the House Agriculture Committee — albeit by a 25-20 vote.
One of four Republicans on the committee to vote for the bill was U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.
Separate bill sponsors
Meanwhile, both of Wyoming’s U.S. senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, are co-sponsoring a separate bill to lift the travel ban, which currently prevents any American from visiting Cuba unless they have a special permit or are visiting immediate family members.
Enzi and U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the main sponsors of the bill, have said they have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill and prevent a filibuster.
Similar proposals have come this far before in Congress, only to ultimately wither away. And there’s no guarantee the outcome will be any different this time, as many lawmakers say that liberalizing trade with Cuba will only help a regime guilty of countless human rights violations.
“Repression is repression and dictatorships are dictatorships, no matter where they are located or whether you want to use their resorts,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., in a statement late last month.
But Enzi believes that opening, not restricting, contact with Cuba will help nurture democracy and freedom, said spokeswoman Elly Pickett.
“He really believes that the way to get change to happen in Cuba is to have a free flow of ideas, and that free flow of ideas will happen when Americans are able to travel there and share their experiences,” Pickett said. “He thinks that we’ve been doing the same thing for all this time and nothing has changed. So it’s time to change.”
Enzi has been going to bat for loosening restrictions on Cuba for nearly a decade, Pickett said, ever since he talked with a Cuban-American from Wyoming who expressed frustration that he couldn’t return to the island more than once a year.
Barrasso also has pushed to lift the travel ban, co-sponsoring Enzi and Dorgan’s bill.
“I believe Americans should have the freedom to travel back to Cuba to see their families and their loved ones,” he said in a statement.
Lummis, meanwhile, is also focused on opening a new market for Wyoming’s agricultural community.
“Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers cannot afford to lose any opportunities during these challenging economic times” Lummis said in a statement explaining her support for the bill to loosen restrictions on agricultural products. “This bill is a common-sense step that rights agriculture policies which in the past have made it difficult for farmers and producers to sell their products in Cuba.”
The debate over the House bill, H.R. 4645, is likely to intensify, as it now must be passed by the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees before it goes to the full House.
As for the Senate’s travel bill, Pickett said there’s “a very good chance” the bill will pass.
President Obama hasn’t yet said whether he supports either bill, though his administration in theory supports liberalizing economic relations with Cuba. Last year, Obama eased travel restrictions a bit, allowing Cuban-Americans to visit family members in Cuba without time restrictions.
Source: Billings Gazette
Posted by Kaci Switzer