Will Congress Stop Obama’s Plan for US-Cuba Change?

Manuel R. Gomez  (Progreso Weekly)

cuba-daily-life-1-685x342HAVANA TIMES — Until recently, it looked like President Obama was winning the fight between those who support and those who oppose his Cuba policy changes. The discussions with Cuba apparently continue to move well towards the establishment of full diplomatic relations.  And the Administration is apparently betting that it has the perfect formula to be accepted by Cuba, and also supported by sufficient US political forces to be able apply a new policy of “soft power” towards the island.  A policy that supports an end to the embargo, but that also continues to support the democracy programs that Cuba considers part of a policy of subversion for regime change.  “Engagement” instead of direct force.

With important segments of the press and public opinion in toe, the recent mood has been that the changes are irreversible, and that they would even occur rapidly. But two recent votes in the House of Representatives, and another one expected this coming week, have challenged these expectations.

Supporters of a travel ban and embargo fight back

For the first time, last week the opponents have forcefully deployed their legislative tactics, with considerable success.  As a result, we know a lot more about the thinking of more than 100 representatives about the issue, a key fact for projecting to the future.  And the facts suddenly no longer suggest that the changes are irreversible, at least in the short or medium term. It goes without saying that Cuban-American congressmen were in the lead of these efforts.

The House approved and will send to the Senate two bills–for the budgets of the departments of Commerce and Transportation–each with amendments that would sink any efforts to facilitate travel to, or trade with, Cuba, two key elements of Obama’s changes and of the legislation behind the embargo. An amendment that would refuse to fund an eventual American embassy in Cuba is expected to be successfully added to a similar bill for the budget of the Department of State next week.

The two bills passed with majorities of 120 and 71 votes respectively, numbers that for the first time reflect how many representatives think in the Republican-controlled House.  In contrast to the mood of supposed irreversibility, it looks like there is an important majority supporting not only of the embargo, but also in favor of rolling back even the modest changes by the Administration.  In other words, forget about eliminating the prohibitions for tourist travel or normal trade with Cuba, which would require eliminating the embargo’s legal framework.  Bad news for the supporters of the policy changes.

It is true that it is unlikely that the Senate will pass those bills, and the White House has already indicated its decision to veto them if they arrive in their present form—in part for the Cuba related amendments, but primarily for more important federal budget reasons. But a poor outlook for these bills with respect to their fundamental objectives is not what really counts with regard to the Cuba policy changes.

What matters are the margins of victory in these votes.  Putting aside the enthusiasm of these first few months, a true change in policy depends on the possibility that the US will abandon its embargo, which requires a majority on both the Senate and the House.  From that standpoint, the irreversibility of the changes in the short and medium term no longer look so promising.

To put these votes in context, it is worthwhile to summarize the status of another proposed bill in the Senate, among many others regarding Cuba, both for and against the changes. The one that has publicly received the most support is a bill that would eliminate the travel prohibition for US citizens and residents. This is a proposal that deals with a theme of personal liberty that is considered very important by Americans, and which is important in the US tradition. It has 37 sponsors at present, a sizable if not decisive number in a Senate of 100 members.

Even if we assume that the bill could reach majority support in the Senate, however, what would be its future in the House, in light of these recent votes?  Poor, if not impossible. Despite the fact that the issue is probably the one with the most popular support in the US.

It looks like the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations is coming, judging from the statements by both countries after the most recent negotiations, and because it is a decision the President can take on his own. But in the short run that would hardly amount to much more than the symbolic raising of the national flags in the two buildings, because it is not even clear that the Senate would confirm a nominee for Ambassador, or would give financial support for the level of embassy that Obama’s policy would require.

It is true that the Administration and others still have more than a year to try to give momentum to the changes. It is also true that we still don’t know how much influence the incipient business lobbies may have. They are still forming and catching speed.  On the other hand, although it seems improbable that a Republican president could go back and break diplomatic relations, he could certainly pull back many of Obama’s executive measures.  Proof are the past examples of Reagan and Bush II. Even with a Democratic victory for president, we are talking about a tie, not a victory by either side of the dispute.

While it is true that the projection in the long term, for numerous reasons is for a change in policy like Obama’s, it also looks like in the short and medium term, except for an unlikely political earthquake, everything is in doubt except the establishment of full relations. With regard to true normalization, which both countries recognize, at least at this point, would require an end to the embargo, the votes in the House suggest that we still have a long wait.


40 thoughts on “Will Congress Stop Obama’s Plan for US-Cuba Change?

  • August 25, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Too funny, should Rubio somehow become the republican candidate, you might as well just hand the whitehouse to Hillary or “other party candidate” now. The republicans handing a chance at the whitehouse to a guy who never served in the US armed forces -AND- no one in his entire bloodline ever served in the US armed forces -AND- when his most recent ancestor (father) had a choice to fight for freedom or flee his home and relatives, he chose to flee. At least Obama had a grandfather that served in WWII. Wow! That’s who I want as my commander in Chief. (…and in Rubio’s defense, he actually lied about his father’s cowardliness. They left Cuba well before the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra was even signed starting the revolution. -AND- his dad did go back several times looking for work AFTER Castro took power. From what I’ve read even coming back in direct violation of US immigration law as well as lying on his immigration form in 1965. GREAT candidate!

  • August 24, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    The easiest way to end the current government in Cuba? Send in millions of US citizens scurrying around like cockroaches to all ends of the country…. especially spring breakers. The Castro’s would even flee the country. Seriously, I can’t imagine anything that could bring a quicker end to the regime. I do hope they are able to maintain their independence though.

  • June 15, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Truly Poetry.

  • June 13, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for blithely acknowledging that your original comments were wrong. The fact is that the US of Marti remembrances was a very different country than the US of today. The problems facing Cuba today are of Castro’s doing. Marti was probably wrong about the US then, and his views are certainly wrong today. Cuba’s best hope for recovering any measure of a quality of life they deserve demands that they adopt a free but regulated open market economy. Cuba needs a political system that encourages free speech and a work ethic that relies on and rewards individual initiative. The US, taking the good and leaving the bad is the best example in the world for such a system.

  • June 12, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Have you taken a look at his views of capitalism? Regarding his time in “capitalist” USA he committed that he had spent time, “…in the belly of the beast”! Both sides, anti and pro use Jose Marti to defend their views. Marti voiced strong condemnation of U.S. imperialism which he considered the product of greedy capitalism. His strong support for social justice and his dream of such in a new Cuba gives some indication of his views of a mix of socialism and capitalism as essential to his dream. Marti viewed the U.S. as Cuba’s “greatest danger”! How very true was this prophetic perspective.

  • June 11, 2015 at 10:13 am

    So a little exploitation is good but a lot is bad?

  • June 11, 2015 at 8:00 am

    An excellent and eloquent summary, sir!

  • June 11, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Well then, that’s a facile and paternalistic view of the issue. Is any huge multinational industry focused on helping it’s host countries? The ones I presume you prefer as the engines of your great and “free” nation? If so, why do we have industry rooted environmental destruction on a scale never seen before? Why do we have human rights abuses and child labour violations on a staggering scale? If a small to medium sized operator brings some trade to Cuba and perhaps uses a support staff of locals, well then good all ’round. Focus on the monolithic corporations that are circling overhead above Cuba. The United Fruit Company of the USA did it once and others of their ilk are leering on the sidelines waiting for their chance. It’s commerce on a small scale that generates a healthy community, not indentured servitude to a self perpetuating, amoral corporation.

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