Obama-Berman Waiting Game on Cuba

Tony Martinez (*)

Nighttime view of Cuba's Capitolio building. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 14 — Many of you are wondering and waiting, when will the Presidential Announcement on new U.S. Cuba Travel regulations be made?  Will Congress take up HR. 4645, the Cuba Ag/Travel legislation?

This is what we do know.  The President’s expected announcement sits in the White House waiting for..? Waiting for what?

Reliable sources have advised that concerted efforts by Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Kendrick Meek (also the Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate from Florida), and Senator Bill Nelson to ask the White House to stall on making the announcement seem to have prevailed for the last month or so, when the announcement was to have been made.  The malarkey the White House is buying is that somehow the Cuba travel changes will hurt the Democrats in November, in particular the Meek Senate race.

I categorically predict now that Kendrick Meek will not be elected United States Senator from Florida.  There will be many reasons why and one will be his position on Cuba.  That, in addition to the usual Diaz-Balarts-Ros Lehtinen-Menendez-Sires quintet sending up its own ruse to the White House that President Obama somehow does not have the authority to alter U.S. Cuba travel rules to ease them (he does) seem to have played upon the President’s advisers on this matter.

In the Congress, it is all the more tenuous.  Last week, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Howard Berman (D-Ca) held an on the record conference call with reporters and bloggers on the status of HR 4645, the Cuba Ag/Travel Bill.  He stated he is five votes shy of obtaining the votes he needs to report the bill to the floor and that he would work on it and asking for continued grassroots support.

Many in the blogosphere interpreted this as a very encouraging sign.  I interpret this differently. Berman was mostly half hearted and not very inspiring, playing upon the ignorance of many on that call.  He may be “committed” to the issue but only to a point.  And this is a critical one for this community to understand if it intends to win the Washington game the U.S. Cuba travel issue is caught up in.  Mr. Berman will not fall on his sword for this issue like its opponents regularly do.  Where are the Members of Congress who will fall on their swords to lift the U.S. travel ban on Cuba?  That is the problem.  There aren’t any.

Why so much clout?

Some may wonder why this criticism of the Chairman?  Unfortunately, he suffers from the same hypocrisy malady as do many other Washington pols. Berman says he is for the bill but he accepted $10,000.00 in donations from the very people who want to keep the travel ban going! What kind of message does that send?

If he wants to send a powerful and principled message, he should return the $10,000 he received from the anti-travel and pro-embargo PAC.  Sadly, most of the House Foreign Affairs Committee membership has already been tainted by donations from that political action committee.

I have personally seen Congressional committee chairmen who are motivated to make things happen and move controversial legislation.  Howard Berman is an honorable and distinguished Member of Congress. We can only hope that Chairman Berman will go to the wall for this legislation that he supports. That is the $10,000 question.

Which leads to the central point to fundamentally understand why the travel ban and the embargo continue at the present day. $1,000,000.00 in political donations every election cycle by a small group of mostly wealthy hard-line Cuban Americans hold this issue hostage and will continue to do so until they are challenged politically by everyone who says they want to lift the travel ban and end the embargo.

The dark side of our political system depends upon money, not principles, good government, or even sound public policy.  It depends upon conflict to drive political donations.  Who would ever think that a small group of mostly wealthy misguided individuals would be able to trash American values like the right to travel, continually embarrass and shame the international reputation of our country across the globe, and contribute to the mutual economic detriment of the United States and Cuba – all for the cost of one million dollars (a paltry sum in political dollars) every two years?

As it has been stated before, when everyone who wants to lift the travel ban on Cuba and end the embargo finally demonstrate politically that it wants to achieve those goals more than those who currently and regularly demonstrate that they want to keep those policies in place, only then will the ban be lifted.  It is going to take more than petitions, letters, and phone calls, under the current formula being used.

I believe that as of September 13, 2010, knowing what we know and how the fight has gone thus far, that it is going to take a legislative miracle to get the travel legislation passed in this Congress.  I believe in miracles though.  But I also know you cannot reach your intended destination if you do not know exactly where you are standing.

I fear that at the end of 2010, this issue will wind up right back where we started from…If Chairman Berman does not get it done now and the Republicans take over the House in November, do you think incoming House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will do anything to allow more travel to Cuba in the next Congress???

(*) www.uscuba.blogspot.com