Posted on Sun, May. 20, 2007
Prospect of easing sanctions on Cuba fades
The new Democratic majority in Congress seems unlikely to ease U.S.
travel and trade policies that limit dealings with Cuba.
BY PABLO BACHELET
After Democrats seized control of Congress last November, the Bush
administration's tough policies on Cuba appeared in trouble. Not anymore.
Since the elections, more than a dozen bills have been introduced to
ease the U.S. sanctions, from relaxing or lifting travel restrictions to
making it easier to export agricultural goods.
But the new Democratic leadership — whose Republican predecessors had
helped ensure that no anti-sanctions initiatives reached President
Bush's desk — has not pushed those bills and is unlikely to do so soon,
Democratic congressional staffers and activists on both sides of the
The reasons include more pressing priorities like Iraq and immigration
reform and an unusually early start of the presidential campaign — with
Florida figuring prominently, given its early primary date. Also, many
Democrats prefer to wait for the political picture in Havana to clear up
before moving to change policy, the staffers and activists say.
''We started this year with high hopes that there would be some concrete
and significant changes to a policy that we long felt has been wrong,
immoral, failed,'' said Mavis Anderson, an advocate with the liberal
Latin America Working Group. “The bills that have been introduced are
good, but so far, they're just sitting there.''
One Democratic staffer said restrictions on U.S. citizens' travel to the
island are especially unpopular among Democrats. One bill that would
lift all of the restrictions — proposed by Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.,
and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., — has garnered 108 co-sponsors.
But the staffer, who asked for anonymity to talk freely on a delicate
issue, said any quick changes were unlikely because many lawmakers are
waiting for the post-Fidel Castro transition to unfold.
''There is some sort of transition under way [and] nobody wants to
predict how that's going to play out,'' the staffer said. “Moving on
any real initiative is probably not wise at this moment because we don't
know what Cuba is going to look like four, five months from now.''
Florida presidential politics also weighs in, the staffer added.
Although polls suggest that Cuban-American attitudes toward sanctions
are changing, a majority of those who arrived in the United States
before 1984 — and are more likely to vote — still oppose concessions
This summer, the House is expected to engage in what has become an
annual ritual: voting on amendments to spending bills that attack all
angles of Cuba policy, from cutting funds for TV Martí and Radio Martí
to stopping the funding of U.S. efforts to enforce the travel sanctions.
But even if those amendments pass the House, they would face big
hurdles. Approval in the Senate is less likely, in part because of
procedural matters and in part because Senate leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,
supports a tough line on Cuba.
''Here, there is no talk about Cuba,'' said one Senate aide on the
Democratic side, who asked for anonymity because he wasn't authorized to
comment on Cuba.