HAVANA TIMES — Eight powerful US senators announced Thursday a bipartisan project to end all restrictions on US citizens wanting to travel to Cuba.
The bill, presented at a mid-day press conference Thursday in Washington, is called the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015. It was introduced in the Senate by a group led by Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.
Leahy was instrumental in the negotiations which led to the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States, the release of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross and the return of three spies [of the Cuban Five] claimed by the regime in Havana. Moran has been an ardent supporter of softening the embargo and making possible trade relations with the island.
This is the first large-scale legislative effort to begin dismantling the embargo against Cuba submitted after the exhortation to Congress by President Barack Obama, on January 20.
The legislation calls for ending all the existing impediments for US citizens and legal residents in the United States to travel freely to Cuba. If passed, they will no longer need licenses from the Treasury Department, which would mean the opening of tourism to the island.
In accordance with the provisions of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department, only Cubans and Cuban Americans residing in the United States may visit without restrictions to the island, covered under the category of family travel.
Other US citizens are barred from making tourist excursions by the embargo law and can only access Cuba with general licenses within12 categories established by the Treasury Department.
Some 100,000 US citizens travel to the island annually since President Obama authorized the cultural and educational exchanges and people-to-people contacts after his arrival in the White House.
The recent announcement of a normalization of relations between the two countries resulted in a further liberalization of measures for travel of US citizens, who, since last January 17, can obtain a general license for numerous activities in Cuba, rather than the specific license previously required.
Green Light for Banking
The legislation would also eliminate the limitations for banking operations of US travelers to Cuba.
Along with Leahy and Moran, the proposal is co-sponsored by Republican Senators Jeff Flake (Arizona), Michael Enzi (Wyoming) and John Boozman (Arkansas) and Democrats Richard Durbin (Illinois), Tom Udall (New Mexico) and Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island).
A similar bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives next week by Republican Representative Mark Sanford (South Carolina) and Democratic Representative Jim McGovern (Massachusetts).
The initiative of the eight senators is the first test of the embargo in the newly initiated congressional period.
Bill to Close Radio and TV Marti
This week, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (Minnesota) reintroduced in the House of Representatives a bill calling for the United States to cut funding and close the Radio and TV Martí stations based in Miami. McCollum had submitted the same initiative in 2011, but did not receive enough support.
The launch of both legislative proposals comes just before hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives on the new policy toward Cuba and its implications for human rights on the island, scheduled for next week.
Lifting the embargo is a basic condition that Cuban President Raul Castro put forth to enable the full normalization of relations with Washington. In his speech Wednesday to the CELAC Summit in Costa Rica, Castro reiterated that demand and also included the cessation of transmissions of Radio and TV Martí and the return of the territory where the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located.