Senators Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) reintroduced a bill last week that would eliminate all restrictions on travel to Cuba. The bill, which had 8 cosponsors when it was first introduced in 2015, has the bipartisan support of 55 senators.
“As the administration is finalizing its Cuba policy review, it is important to show that a bipartisan majority in the Senate supports not only not rolling back the measures that President Obama took to expand travel, but to go even further and remove all restrictions,” James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, told el Nuevo Herald. Engage Cuba is a lobby group backed by companies and organizations that support the removal of sanctions on Cuba.
If passed, the bill would eliminate all travel restrictions for Americans and authorize bank transactions made by travelers. A similar bill was presented in the house, but with less support. Williams said the bill is meant to send a strong message to the Trump administration has it reaches the final stages of its Cuba policy review.
In a separate move, Leahy and Flake introduced another bill was introduced on Friday to lift the Cuba trade embargo together with Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota). The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2017 seeks to eliminate the legal barriers that prevent U.S. citizens from doing business in Cuba, including the original 1961 legislation establishing the embargo, the subsequent laws for its enforcement, and other restrictive laws that prevent transactions between U.S. companies and Cuba.
“For far too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined by conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities for the future,” Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people of both our countries by boosting American exports and creating opportunity for the Cuban people. We need to turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”
“After more than half a century, the embargo has achieved none of its objectives. President Obama took a courageous and pragmatic step in opening diplomatic relations with Cuba,” Leahy said. “It is now up to Congress to end the embargo, which is used by the Cuban government to justify its repressive policies, and by foreign companies to avoid competing with U.S. businesses that are shut out of the market.”
To remove some of the travel restrictions to Cuba, former President Barack Obama signed an executive order that added a dozen categories under which travelers can visit the island. Only an act of Congress can remove all the restrictions.
The Cuban Study Group, a nonprofit that backed the former president’s changes, released a statement in support of Flake and Leahy’s bill, saying the removal of travel restrictions would have a great effect on the lives of Cubans, especially those working in the private sector.
“Instead of being forced to use the government as an intermediary, hundreds of thousands of Cubans who work in independent restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and a wide range of other service professions would have direct access to U.S. currency,” the nonprofit said.
The bill has strong support from companies and associations that organize trips to the island. More than 40 of them have sent a letter to the Trump administration asking it to prioritize economic “growth and job creation” in its policy review.