Just maybe, the new Congress will succeed in ending at least part of the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba. Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), joined by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and seven “original co-sponsors,” introduced HR. 874 Feb. 4. The bill, designated as the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act,” would lift all restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to the island.

Its language is straightforward: “The President may not regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents, or any of the transactions incident to such travel.” It also states that restrictions and regulations on Cuba travel now in effect would end with the law’s enactment.

According to the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), advocate before Congress of progressive U.S. foreign policies in the region, “We probably have the best chance that we’ve had for decades” to end the economic blockade against Cuba.

Mainstays of that policy are the travel ban and prohibitions on trade. Even during the early Bush years — in 2003 — Congress did vote to ease travel restrictions. At the time, however, Republican chairpersons tossed such provisions out in conference committees. Now Democrats control both houses of Congress. Observers say President Obama, who has promised Cuban Americans freedom to travel and send remittances to Cuba, is unlikely to veto a bill getting rid of travel restrictions.

Movement in Congress is crucial. The Helms Burton law of 1996 transferred responsibility for changing U.S. policies toward Cuba from the executive branch to Congress. The LAWG provides regular updates of Cuba legislation pending before Congress. Its web site, , highlights the importance of exerting pressure on legislators to sponsor H.R. 874.

Opinion polls have long demonstrated that most U.S. citizens support ending the embargo. A Fox News Poll of 900 voters performed Jan. 27-28, for example, indicated that only 30 percent approve of the blockade, while 59 percent favor full diplomatic relations between the two nations. Polling results among Cuban Americans are contradictory: a survey in November had 55 percent rejecting the trade and travel ban, yet another reported this month by the Miami Herald suggested approval by an overwhelming 72 percent.

Since 2003, Rep. Delahunt has consistently introduced legislation doing away with all or part of the travel ban. Additionally, he has long protested U.S. protection of Luis Posada. He held a dramatic hearing on kid glove legal treatment of the anti-Cuban terrorist in November 2007.

On Feb. 4, Delahunt made public a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office on Radio and Television Martí, the Miami-based U.S. project of broadcasts to Cuba (see ). Fraud, poor business practices, favoritism, and lack of transparency are alleged. “The use of offensive and incendiary language in broadcasts” is noted, also “the presentation of individual views as news.” Total taxpayer costs come $500 million. Reports with similar findings were issued in 2006 and 2008.

atwhit @ roadrunner.com