By Dawn Gable
HAVANA TIMES, June 24 — Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart claims his fellow Cuban-Americans are enjoying their freedom to visit family on the island way too much and are sending too much money to their relatives.
To combat the loosened family travel under President Obama, Diaz-Balart tacked on an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2012 Financial Services bill in an attempt to stop the nearly 400,000 Cuban-Americans who enthusiastically traveled to the island last year from doing it again.
The Congressman claimed that his opinion reflects that of 90% of the Cuban-American community, although the travel figures dispute his claim.
The amendment would return to the Bush era restrictions by:
- Requiring specific licenses for family travel
- Narrowing the definition of “family”
- Limit travel to every three years for a time period of 14 days
- Limit family remittances to immediate family members
- Limit the total in remittances to $300 for every quarter of the year
The amendment– characterized by the Latin American Working Group as cruel, mean-spirited and anti-family–was passed by the Appropriations Committee and will be voted on by the full House of Representatives as part of a bill that has nothing at all to do with Cuba or foreign affairs.
This tactic is nothing new; in fact this is a case of direct turn-about.
In 2009, Rep. Serrano (D-NY) restored the rights of Cuban Americans to visit their homeland any time they wish by adding such language to that year’s Omnibus Appropriations bill. Budget and Appropriations bills are used in this fashion by all because these bills have to be passed sooner or later so Members are forced to compromise for the sake of keeping the government running.
The sole voice of reason on the Republican side, Rep. Jeff Flake censured his fellow conservatives saying that the party that claims to be for family values and small government and liberty should not be depriving people of their freedoms and dividing families. He said, if we allow free travel, the Cubans will surely develop their own restrictive regulations. “If someone is going to be restricting travel, it should be the Communists!”
Puerto Rican legislator Rep. Serrano warned that we should not be trying to define what constitutes “family” because the scope varies among different ethnic groups and Virginia Democrat Rep. Moran decried the amendment as un-American and “totalitarian”.
In response to the Republican side using arguments that have nothing to do with Cuban American travel and remittances, such as the death last year of a Cuban hunger-striker, Democratic Congresswoman DeLauro commented that union leaders are killed in Colombia by the score, but nobody is talking about placing travel restrictions on Colombian-Americans.
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur recalled her experiences in Eastern Europe and said “we should be building bridges, not walls”. California Rep. Barbara Lee pointed out that most dissidents on the island not only want the entire travel ban lifted, but the embargo as well. Rep. Moran added that instead of isolating ourselves, we should be seeking cooperative relationships on issues such as energy and drug trafficking.
One Democrat, Rep. Schiff, who recently received a $2000 payment from the far-right Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, gave a soap-box speech about the stubbornness of the Cuban government and warning that if it doesn’t start complying with US desires, he will be voting with Mr. Diaz-Balart next time, thus assuring himself another check before the floor vote.
Florida Rep. Diaz-Balart said that remittances have become a huge cash windfall for the Cuban government, ignoring the fact that the money is helping the Cuban people to become less economically dependent on the government and that much of it has gone toward starting up small businesses.
But Rep. Diaz-Balart doesn’t care about facts. He doesn’t care about Cubans on the island any more that he cares about the rights of Cuban-Americans to make their own choices like any other immigrant group. He is only interested in hauling out the same tired rhetoric that kept his brother in office for so long in hopes that this formula will keep him employed too.
Meanwhile, the pro- normalization legislators’ main argument against the embargo and restricting travel remains: “that policy has not worked for 50 years.” But for the Cuban-American Representatives and Senators, it has worked quite well!
The new amendment has many hurdles to overcome before becoming law. Havana Times will keep you informed.