Congress considers easing restrictions on trade with Cuba
Posted June 21 2007, 5:06 PM EDT
Washington — Lawmakers from both parties proposed opening up
agriculture exports to Cuba and ending travel restrictions, putting them
at odds with a White House adamantly opposed to easing a
“Our policy is just so wrongheaded,'' said Senate Finance Committee
Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who with other farm state lawmakers has
long pushed for ending the restrictions on trade with Cuba. His proposed
legislation, he said Thursday, is “a step toward restoring sanity to
this economic relationship.''
The trade and travel embargo imposed on Fidel Castro's government comes
up almost every year in Congress, but the bipartisan drive to ease
restrictions has never been strong enough to overcome anti-Castro
lawmakers and White House veto threats.
Baucus was joined in his effort by House Ways and Means Committee
Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and two farm-state Republicans, Rep. Jo
Ann Emerson of Missouri and Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho.
“The backwards American policy on Cuba hurts our U.S. producers a whole
lot more than it hurts Fidel Castro,'' Emerson said.
In 2000, during the Clinton administration, Congress passed a law
allowing cash sales of food and agriculture products to Cuba, and since
then the United States has sold some $1.5 billion in farm products to
the island nation. But trade has been hampered the last two years by a
Treasury Department ruling that Cuba must make advance payments before
agriculture and medical products can be shipped. It later allowed
shipments after third-country banks received payments.
The Baucus bill would remove prepayment requirements, allow direct
payments to U.S. banks, provide expedited visas to Cubans involved in
buying farm products from the United States, and lift a rule that
requires exporters to make onsite verification of the receipt of
medicines and medical equipment sold to Cuba.
It would lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba, which is now open to a
limited group including Cuban-Americans, religious groups, academics and
Asked about the chances for success this year, the lawmakers pointed to
growing popular support in the United States for easing the embargo and
President Bush's foreign policy problems. “The president's credentials
on foreign policy are not at an all-time high,'' noted Rangel.