House votes to allow travel, trade with Cuba

Those who have been fighting for 40 years to end the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba scored a stunning victory in the House of Representatives late last month.

On July 23 the House approved a series of amendments to the appropriations bill for the Treasury Department and Postal Service, marking a dramatic swing away from the Bush administration’s policy of tightening the Cuba blockade. The action reflects the growing grassroots repudiation of both the blockade and the travel bans.

An amendment sponsored by Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) – and approved 262-167 – has the effect of stripping all funding from enforcement of the ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

A second amendment, presented by Reps. Flake and William DeLaHunt (D-Mass.), prohibits the expenditure of government money to restrict the remittance of funds from Cuban-Americans to their relatives in Cuba was approved 251-177.

A third amendment, to permit private financing of sales of food and medicine to Cuba, presented by Reps. Moran, Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) and Timothy Johnson (R-Ill.), passed easily on a voice vote.

An amendment sponsored by Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) that would have tied trade with Cuba to the nonsense concept of “proof” that Cuba does not have biological weapons and is not providing them to other countries, was defeated, by a vote of 182-147.

An amendment offered by Reps. Charles Rangel and Jose Serrano (both D-N.Y.) entirely defunding enforcement of the blockade was defeated 204-226, a much slimmer margin than that on a similar measure last year.

This year’s action is the result of a convergence of liberal and centrist Democrats with Republicans from farm districts eager to sell agricultural products to Cuba.. The week after the vote, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven headed for Cuba for trade talks. Asked if he would meet with dissidents in Cuba, he bluntly stated that he was not interested in doing so, just in finding markets for his state’s farm products.

Cuba solidarity activists celebrated the vote. Mavis Anderson of the church-based Latin American Working Group in Washington, D.C., said, “Churches and humanitarian organizations have long said that food and medicine and credit for food and medical sales should not be used as weapons ... American religious and humanitarian values dictate that the Cuban people should not have to suffer because the United States does not agree with the Cuban government.”

However, these activists also warn that this is not the end of the blockade.The Bush administration has promised to erase this victory, as they did last year when similar amendments were attached to the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill. On that occasion, the Republican leadership of both houses made sure that the amendments were stricken from the legislation of the House-Senate Conference Committee. A similar battle – with the same result – is anticipated this year.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org