LEGISLATURE | CUBA
Cuba travel bill clears Senate hurdle
A bill increasing regulation of travel agents selling trips to Cuba
passed a committee hearing in the Senate Monday afternoon.
Posted on Tue, Apr. 22, 2008
BY LAURA FIGUEROA
They called his measure political grandstanding. He called them business
partners with the Castro regime.
Monday there was no love lost between Rep. David Rivera, a Miami
Republican, and a group of Miami-based travel agents specializing in
trips to Cuba.
Rivera's proposal to increase state regulation of agencies selling trips
to Cuba passed through a Senate committee, but not before a heated
debate from travel agents who came from Miami to speak on the issue.
''This bill is presented as an anti-terrorism bill, but what it does is
stop travel from Miami and Cuba,'' Armando García, president of
Miami-based Marazul Charters Travel, told the Senate Criminal Justice
Under Rivera's measure — and a corresponding Senate version sponsored
by Sen. Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican — any Florida travel agency
selling trips to countries on the U.S. State Department's list of
terrorist nations, which includes Cuba, would pay up to $2,500 in annual
registration fees with the state. They also would have to place a bond
of up to $25,000.
''He's playing politics with an issue that has nothing to do with
politics,'' said Maria Teresa Aral, president of ABC Charters. “This is
about economic development.''
García and Aral contend that additional restrictions would force
customers to fly from Mexico or the Dominican Republic to get to Cuba.
Only Miami International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and
John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York are allowed by the
federal government to carry flights to Cuba from the United States.
Rivera, who has pushed for similar regulatory measures, including a 2006
law banning the use of state money to fund educational trips to Cuba,
seemed unpersuaded by the travel agents' arguments.
''In this case there are two business partners involved in these
business activities,'' Rivera said. “It is the travel agency here and
it is the Cuban government . . . so I believe . . . that the Castro
regime and their business partners here in Miami will make business
decisions to stay in business in Florida.''
If the measure is approved by the Legislature, the travel agencies plan
to go to court. ''This will not end here,'' García said after the vote.