Where do we go from here?

The unfortunate decision by Rep. Howard Berman to postpone the mark-up of the Cuba travel bill, led to diverse interpretations.

There was poorly reasoned speculation about the postponement in The Hill which was then cited in other publications, including Laura Rozen's Politico blog.

Lacking the votes necessary for passage, a House panel has postponed action on a bill that would lift travel restrictions to Cuba....

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) has been trying to secure 24 votes on the 47-member panel to approve the bill, but an analysis by The Hill shows only 16 members have publicly committed to it.

Nothing in the Hill article sustained the reporters' opinion that travel reform proponents faced defeat. 


Members of the Committee who had not cosponsored travel legislation were prepared to support it in mark-up, among them Gary Ackerman of New York (as reported in the New York Daily News).

"Berman told me he would not bring the measure up to lose," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, L.I.), "but that with my vote, the measure would pass."

Ackerman, who always voted against easing travel restrictions, said this time is different.

"After giving it a lot of thought, I have changed my position," he said. " I plan to vote in favor."

After nearly 50 years of failure, Ackerman said, it was time to move in another direction.

Recalling a night-long meeting with then-President Fidel Castro in 1994, Ackerman said that he "made a case with him" for human rights.

"It didn't happen then," Ackerman said. "But Cuba is addressing many of those issues now. Besides, if there is no travel ban on Iran, why do we have one on Cuba?"

Travel advocates in Washington say the votes were there for passage.  Mavis Anderson of the Latin America Working Group posted to her list:

While only the Chairman knew the hard-clad, private commitments he had received, we expected to win.

Another part of the advocacy community, blogger Tony Martinez, was more cynical:

Chairman Howard Berman (D-Ca) demonstrated what we have argued all along, that he is not really committed to passing this legislation. Excuses, excuses, excuses, and then the calendar will run out.

Anti-travel forces also gave a negative spin as reported by Jerry Hagstrom in Congress Daily

A Republican House aide said it he believed that if Berman had the votes, he would have brought up the bill today. "Something would have to change for this to actually come to fruition in the lame duck. [Berman] is not going to bring this up to lose."

On its face Chairman Berman's explanation is credible.  At 12:30 Wednesday there was a recorded House vote on the question of early adjournment which passed over Republican opposition so clearly the mark-up would have been disrupted.  It was immediately followed by the debate over health care funding for September 11 first responders and a non-stop effort to finish legislative business before the day was over.

I don't know where that leaves the travel bill.  In a lame duck session beginning November 15th can the committee do mark-up and will both the House and Senate give high enough priority to Cuba to get the legislation passed?  If the Republicans take the House, is bold action more or less likely?


In any case, the spotlight now goes to the White House and the status of its long reported reform of regulations to open non-tourist people to people travel. 

It has been confirmed by William Gibson in the Sun Sentinel that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz helped block the announcement of reform in regulations. 

The Obama administration has signaled for weeks it will ease restrictions on non-tourist trips to Cuba by special travelers, such as athletes, artists and business leaders. The idea is to establish people-to-people contacts while pressuring Cuba to reform itself.

At the urging of Wasserman Schultz, the White House has held back, perhaps until after the mid-term elections.

“She expressed her disagreement with any changes in Cuba policy and asked them (White House officials) to inform her if they were going to make any significant changes,” said her spokesman Jonathan Beeton.

The failure of the House Committee to move travel legislation puts the Administration on the spot to demonstrate the US recognizes important events have occurred in Cuba, including release of prisoners and restructuring the economic system. 

The new more agressive campaign mode of the President could make him more interested in reminding his base that he, and the Democrats by inference, are better able to deal with long-standing seemingly intractable foreign policy problems.  With Cuba he can actually do something quickly and dramatically, compared with Israel-Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, world poverty, etc.

Policy on Cuba offers an opportunity for the President to reassure those who preferred him as the candidate and then elected him that he can accomplish the change that makes a difference.


John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Links and Resources
Profile in the New Republic of David Axelrod

“In terms of the short-term mentality, the unwillingness to take risks, the way every day is scored like the Super Bowl—all those things he believed, I think, have been confirmed in the extreme,” says David Plouffe, the former Axelrod partner who managed the Obama campaign….

In Obama’s mind, special interests and partisanship corrupt good policymaking —both for the common man and everyone else.

New York TImes story of caution among Cuban Americans about economic reforms back home

Serafin Blanco, owner of Ñooo! ¡Que Barato!, a huge discount store where recent arrivals stock up on $1.99 flip-flops and other items for relatives to resell in Cuba, said the American ban on tourist travel to the island would need to end before businesses could take off. “That is when there will be enough money circulating to support these small stores,” he said.