Cuba travel bill advances in the Senate

Now that the Cuban Five are free, Cuba is all but removed from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list, and restoral of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba is proceeding, it is not too soon to start work to get legislation passed that will end the U.S. blockade of Cuba, and the accompanying prohibitions of travel to Cuba as well.

Of numerous progressive bills about Cuba that have been submitted in the Senate and House of Representatives, the one that appears to be moving forward most quickly is S 299, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015, whose principal sponsors are Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. 

So far it has accumulated 33  additional cosponsors. Most are Democrats but there are enough Republicans so far that the passage of the bill, while not necessarily easy, is not an impossible challenge.

If S 299, and its companion bill in the House of Representatives, HR 664, which has accumulated 29 cosponsors, both pass, President Obama is sure to sign them into law. 

The two bills cancel existing prohibitions on travel to Cuba and prohibit the President from enacting new travel prohibitions or banking restrictions incidental to such travel. They do not dismantle other existing prohibitions on trade with Cuba; that will require much larger-scale legislation.

When, on Dec. 16, President Obama announced the complete overhaul of U.S. Cuba policy,  some Republican politicians, and a couple of Democrats, started frothing at the mouth and swearing they would never let this happen.  However, there are many farm and business interests who are very much in favor of normalizing trade with Cuba for the simple reason that they want in on the commerce, and profits, which are now going to businesses from other countries. 

Supporters of S 299 say they want to see 50 cosponsors on the bill by the end of June.  HR 664 will need many more also. 

All who want to see the last of the outrageous prohibition on U.S. citizens’ and residents’ travel to Cuba should, therefore, start calling, writing, faxing, e-mailing and visiting their senators and representatives immediately.  Senators and representatives already on board as co-sponsors should be thanked, and those who are not yet should be asked to co-sponsor and follow through with a “yes” vote.

As S 299 has been assigned to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is chaired by Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., special attention should also be paid to the members of that body.  There are some strongly anti-Cuba members in the committee, but others who are likely to be supportive. 

HR 664 will go to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Members of both committees and their contact information are easily found on the Congressional website.

To find contact information for your senators and representatives, go to the very easy-to-use Congressional website, .

Photo: Obama and Castro.  |  Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.