Bipartisan Push to Open Tourist Travel to Cuba for US Citizens

by Café Fuerte

Senator Pat Leahy presented the bill on Thursday.
Senator Patrick Leahy presented the bill on Thursday.

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.

Opening Travel

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.

Senator Jerry Moran from Kansas.
Senator Jerry Moran from Kansas.

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

Radio Marti (2)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.


7 thoughts on “Bipartisan Push to Open Tourist Travel to Cuba for US Citizens

  • April 20, 2015 at 4:10 pm
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    You all got to remember that ‘spending $s ‘ will help in building the economy and hopefully some of it ‘trickles’ down to the locals…Look at China.
    The ‘level’ of Living Standards will definitely rise if Tourism is embraced.

  • February 1, 2015 at 12:53 am
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    What?

  • February 1, 2015 at 12:21 am
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    Oh well, we can’t have the liberation of the Cuban people interfere with your pleasant enjoyment of their prison island, now can we?

    Cuba is a theme park for Marxist wannabes who like to travel south in the winter and feel all revolutionary, without actually having to sacrifice anything.

    You want to keep Cuba pure and unspoiled by capitalism, which is where you live and how you earn you money.

    The condescending and exploitative attitude of Leftist Lite Tourists makes me sick. As far as you are concerned the whole purpose of the Cuban people is to live in an imaginary socialist paradise, so you can visit for time to time, and thereby imagine a better world than your tedious existance as a bitter resentful nobody.

    The suffering the Cuban people go through everyday is a passion play for your self-indulgent leftist fantasy. Screw you.

  • January 31, 2015 at 5:11 pm
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    You’re suffering from the colonial white mans disease. You view the Cubans as the “noble” savage” and visit Cuba for your fix of the exotic wild vacation or in your case indulge in your “Fantasy Island” dream of a communist paradise. You then go home having satires your base desires and relax in our modern society. Don’t the Cubans deserve the same modern conveniences you enjoy in our decadent US society?

  • January 31, 2015 at 11:40 am
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    Dan, don’t get your panties in a bunch just yet. The “experts” estimate that even under the best conditions only a million more US tourists would come to Cuba. The Castros want us to believe that almost 3 million total international visitors came to Cuba in 2014. That simply means for every 4 tourists who visited last year only one more will come from the US. Keep in mind that nearby destinations with bigger marketing budgets and better infrastructure will ramp up to fend on the new competition. What’s left over are the tourists who like to be the “firsts” to go somewhere. Typically, these are not the big spenders. By the way, isn’t it a little selfish of you to wish that Cuba remain in the Stone Ages. If you have the choice of a Café Macchiato or Chai Latte in Starbucks where you live why should you wish to deny my sister-in-law the same choice.?

  • January 31, 2015 at 11:38 am
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    Don’t get your panties in a bunch just yet. The “experts” estimate that even under the best conditions only a million more US tourists would come to Cuba. The Castros want us to believe that almost 3 million total international visitors came to Cuba in 2014. That simply means for every 4 tourists who visited last year only one more will come from the US. Keep in mind that nearby destinations with bigger marketing budgets and better infrastructure will ramp up to fend on the new competition. What’s left over are the tourists who like to be the “firsts” to go somewhere. Typically, these are not the big spenders. By the way, isn’t it a little selfish of you to wish that Cuba remain in the Stone Ages. If you have the choice of a Café Macchiato or Chai Latte in Starbucks where you live why should you wish to deny my sister-in-law the same choice.?

  • January 31, 2015 at 12:41 am
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    I’ll be sorry to see travel to Cuba legalized! I shudder to share the island with hordes of tourists to follow. Then again, about 95% will stick to Habana Vieja, Varadero, and the A.I. resorts and a few other tourist ghettos elsewhere. Still, I won’t like seeing “Los Rayos de Burgers,” Starbucks and Shake Shacks popping up everywhere!

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