By Dawn Gable
HAVANA TIMES, April 4 – “You’ll never see a more diverse group of Representatives in the same room… but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this,” joked Conservative Democrat Rep. Marion Berry during the press conference held April 2nd to formally announce HR 874, the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba” bill, introduced by Rep. Delahunt (D) and Rep. Flake (R).
The legislation mirrors the bipartisan Senate bill S 428. The house version currently boasts 124 cosponsors; the senate version has 20. Both are sitting in Foreign Affairs committees in each chamber.
Rep. Jeff Flake, Republican co-chair of the Cuba Working Group in the House of Representatives, illustrated Berry’s sentiment by commenting that the only good thing about having a Democrat for a president is that they might get this bill passed and signed into law.
Rep. James McGovern calling himself a typical liberal from Massachusetts said that he has been embarrassed by his country’s “dumb policy” and that if the signals coming from the white house regarding revising Cuba policy are true then “it tells me that grown-ups are now in charge and we are going to have a more mature policy.”
“Every time I come home [from a trip to Cuba] all I hear is I want to go,” exclaimed Tourism Caucus chair Rep. Sam Farr, while noting that the National Tour Association supports the legislation and is standing by to assist tour operators interested in fostering relations between US and Cuban tourism industries.
Joining the legislators were four Cuban Americans: Auxiliary Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of Miami; Ignacio Sosa, a republican investor whose father and brother participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; Alfredo Duran, a lawyer who was a Bay of Pigs participant; and Silvia Wilhelm, founder and director of Puentes Cubanos, who came to the US as an unaccompanied child in Operation Peter Pan.
Although Wilhelm stressed that the Cuban American community is not “monolithic,” the four present noted that by opening up travel to Cuba, Cubans will learn about freedom and will be empowered to change their government.
When asked by the Miami Herald why American tourists would bring change to the island when Canadian and European tourists have not, Wilhelm responded- because Cubans have been living with the notion of an enemy; travel will dispel that notion.
This sentiment was shared by dissidents Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who joined the conference from Cuba by phone. “We believe that contacts between the Americans and Cubans… and American tourism are of the utmost importance.” However, they went further in saying that the economic embargo too must go because it has “proven ineffective and counterproductive.”
Rep. Donna Edwards agreed saying that restoring travel is only the beginning, as our entire Cuba policy has been a “significant investment in failure.”
Also speaking at the event was Rep. Barbara Lee who left for Havana on Friday leading a Congressional Black Caucus delegation, Rep. DeLauro (D-CT), freshman Rep. Chaffetz of Utah, and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson who said that through traveling to Cuba, she has learned that “Cubans share the same values we do.” She stressed, “It is time to bring reality to our policy.”