Congressional Committee faces Cuba decision


DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. – “While the White House dithers, an historic decision on U.S. relations with Cuba will be made tomorrow by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs,” said John McAuliff, founder and executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

“At noon on Wednesday, September 29, the Committee will mark-up the travel section of HR 4645. If a majority approve the language to end all restrictions on travel to Cuba, the bill is expected to go to the House floor after the mid-term election.”

McAuliff warned that, “Favorable action by the Committee is not certain. More than half of the members received contributions from the pro-embargo anti-travel U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC: 26 of 47 received a total of $178,000 in the current and previous election cycles. Only a third, 17, have cosponsored travel legislation.

“However Chairman Howard Berman said he would not bring up the bill unless he had the votes for approval. One previously anti-travel Representative, Gary Ackerman from New York, has announced he will support it. In its favor, the cause of freedom to travel has a host of unlikely allies with a variety of economic and political motives, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agribusiness, the travel industry, human rights organizations, educators, advocacy groups and moderate Cuban Americans.”

McAuliff noted that, “The position of the Obama Administration on the mark-up is not known so far. Many assume based on testimony by Secretary Clinton last year that the Administration will not threaten to veto such legislation as President Bush did. Will the White House or State Department say that now? Will they go further and endorse the legislation?

“I was an active supporter of Barack Obama’s campaign in my personal capacity but I fear as President he has been captured by the same short term domestic political calculations on Cuba that crippled his predecessors,” McAuliff charged. “Based on several news stories in August it is clear that the Administration was preparing to announce regulatory reform enabling non-tourist people-to-people travel at or beyond the level permitted by the Clinton Administration by early September. However, Cuban-American members of the House and Senate and their south Florida ally Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz objected vociferously. The Administration buckled, just as it did in April 2009 to similar pressure when it limited reform to Cuban-American family travel.

“It appears that political advisers in the White House intervened to postpone an announcement until at least after the mid-term elections, an odd position since recent polls show that 60% of Cuban Americans and two thirds of all Americans favor the complete end of travel restrictions. Moreover the same minority that fear the impact of even economically insignificant non-tourist visits and people-to-people dialogue opposed the President’s authorization last year of unrestricted family travel.

“Wasserman-Schultz staff have boasted to the Sun Sentinel of her impact on the White House. Rep. Albio Sires told the Congressional Quarterly that he and she also warned Democratic leaders the travel bill would anger Cuban-American voters and hurt the electoral prospects of Florida Democrats.”

McAuliff speculated that the only Democratic race that could be affected is Rep. Kendrick Meek’s third place run for the Senate in Florida. “Meek will be forced either to oppose the action of a President beloved by his African-American base and the views of most Congressional Democrats or to break with his close friends, the Republican Cuban Americans Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart. He might also be embarrassed by attention directed to the $103,500 in donations he has received since 2004 from the hard line U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and its board members.

“If the HR 4645’s travel provisions are approved by a majority of the Committee, grass roots Cuba activists on both sides of the issue will make their views known to candidates for House and Senate seats. If it fails, attention will focus on what the White House does on non-tourist travel,” McAuliff concluded.

The Fund for Reconciliation and Development is a 25-year-old non-governmental organization. It successfully worked for normal U.S. diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and is a leader in the campaign to do the same with Cuba.