Senator Menendez, the Dike has Burst

There he was, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, holding forth from the well of the Senate making his Alamo stand against some very innocuous provisions to allow Cuban-American family members travel to Cuba and for American agricultural producers to carry out the business they already do with Cuba more efficiently during a time of economic recession.

Most analysts I speak with say this was a picture of a man trying to put his finger in a dike, knowing it was about to burst. Senator Menendez is, you see, the highest ranking Cuban American in Congress and, with the Diaz-Balart brothers and Rep. Lehtinen in the minority, the last hope for defending the embargo against Cuba in the 111th Congress.

Now, however, the dike has burst. At a time when the nation is reeling from the worst recession in years, our failed embargo on Cuba is keeping American farmers and businesses from significant orders. After the devastation of the 2008 hurricanes, the Cuban government is providing 75% of the food for its 11 million people. Most of that has to be imported from countries much further away than 90 miles. China just received the order for a new fleet of Cuban Buses--not Detroit. One third of Cuba's housing stock is still gravely damaged or destroyed because the island cannot get the building materials to rebuild. Yet American suppliers would be happy to fill those orders.

Today that objective reality was made political reality by 15 Senators who signed onto a letter organized by Max Baucus, an ag state Senator from Montana. Addressed to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the Senators urged Tim Geithner not to stray from the letter of the law as passed by Congress in the Omnibus legislation, in effect telling Geithner that whatever deal Menendez thought he had with Treasury, it shall not stand.

This is important. The 2008 presidential election showed that the Cuban American community in South Florida no longer has a lock on Florida's electoral vote, liberating the president from having to continue a policy of isolation that makes no sense for America. This letter, and its strong showing of support in the Senate, reveals that the Congressional control that pro-embargo members had is crumbling around them.

Menendez had already angered the Administration by holding up the appointment of Science Advisor John Holdren over perceived slights on Cuba policy. That Menendez, a member of the Senate Democratic Leadership, caused such tumult and likely embarrassment for the Obama administration and for Senate Majority Leader Reid on a must-pass piece of legislation was too much, and now Senator Baucus has added some parliamentary dynamite.

The new reality is that there is no political obstacle to a decisive shift on U.S. Cuba policy. Not in Florida and not on Capitol Hill. Now the question is about political will in the White House.

I have reprinted the letter and signatories below.
March 16, 2009

Secretary Timothy F. Geithner
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Secretary Geithner,

We are concerned by a March 11 Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) notice outlining its planned implementation of provisions passed in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. The intent of those provisions was to facilitate already legal agricultural trade with Cuba.

The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) of 2000 authorized agricultural exports to Cuba by payment of cash in advance or third-country bank letters of credit. For several years, until early 2005, such cash-based sales were taking place and working well. After goods shipped from U.S. ports, the Cuban buyers initiated payments, routing them through third-country banks, as required by the law. There were no reported instances in which a Cuban buyer took possession of U.S. goods prior to completing payment to the U.S. seller, a fact acknowledged by the Treasury Department during the confirmation hearing of Deputy Secretary Kimmitt in July 2005.

Despite this fact, OFAC issued a rule in February 2005 that defined “payment of cash in advanceâ€Â as payment prior to shipment of goods. The change in definition has brought all cash-based sales to a halt, rendering the cash in advance provision useless and undermining Congress’s intent to facilitate agriculture sales to Cuba. Your March 5, 2009 letter stated that OFAC will continue to use this definition. This is contrary to the intention of the provisions included in the Omnibus legislation to halt this use.

We are troubled to see OFAC continue this practice. Its March 11 notice mistakenly suggests that the “ordinary commercial meaningâ€Â of “cash in advanceâ€Â requires payment prior to shipment of goods. Such an interpretation is legally inaccurate. The American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service has studied this issue in depth and concluded that, “[I]t would appear difficult to find legal support for OFAC’s interpretation that ‘payment of cash in advance’ requires payment be received prior to shipment. As a review of four traditional methods of payment indicates, it appears customary within the international trade and finance community to place the emphasis on the legal transfer of control, rather than on the date of shipment…OFAC’s interpretation appears to limit the available payment options to those that are considered risky, undesirable, and underutilized….â€Â

In your Questions for the Record during consideration of your nomination earlier this year, you committed to “… taking great care to follow congressional intent and working closely with members of Congress to ensure that OFAC’s activities with regard to Cuba are achieving its important objectives without unnecessary hurdles or unreasonable administrative delays.â€Â We urge you to stand by that pledge.

We look forward to working closely with you on this matter.


Senator Max Baucus Senator Richard Lugar
Senator Jeff Bingaman Senator Mike Enzi
Senator Tom Harkin Senator Pat Roberts
Senator Blanche Lincoln Senator Mike Crapo
Senator Jon Tester Senator Kit Bond
Senator Patty Murray Senator Mark Pryor
Senator Mary Landrieu Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Tim Johnson

Cuba's Russia Problem

Just a quick note to reinforce what my colleague Phil Peters is saying about the Russia-Cuba non-axis at his blog, Cuban Triangle.

My contention is that Cuba's broad international strategy follows the Yugoslav model of balancing and taking rents from multiple powers and being beholden to none. China, Russia, Brazil, sometimes the EU, and certainly the hemispheric player Venezuela all fit this model.

We will have to see if this strategy survives the transition of power in Havana, but the strategy, as Phil mentions, has its downsides. Russia's relation to the US is more strategic than its relations with Cuba, and Cuba can get the short end of the stick when its patrons' relationships to Washington change. It is a major weakness of the Cuban strategy with a new government getting on its global feet in Washington.

More soon.

Gains in Congress and OFAC Just the Beginning

Florida Senators Martinez and Nelson

Everyone who seeks normal relations between the US and Cuba is justifiably celebrating the one-two punch of the Cuba language in the Omnibus Appropriations bill and the OFAC regulations to implement it as the first step toward restoring freedom of travel to everyone. While Cuban Americans have not yet achieved the unlimited travel and remittances promised by candidate Obama, they have regained the ground stolen by President Bush in 2004.

The Treasury Department’s fast action through OFAC is a more significant indicator of where the Administration is heading than the fig leaf that Secretary Tim Geithner provided the two rejectionist Democrats, Senators Menendez and Nelson, so they could vote for cloture.

It is worth reading his letters carefully as they affirm that a larger change is coming.

We are, however, currently reviewing United States policy toward Cuba to determine the best way to foster democratic change in Cuba and improve the lives of the Cuban people. Your views and the views of others on Capitol Hill will be important to that review, and the President remains committed to consulting with you as we consider changes to Cuba policy. (Texts here posted by Jake Colvin.)

Of course Senators Menendez, Martinez and Nelson will be consulted, but not more than other Senators like Kerry, Lugar and Dodd. A further encouraging note was in a Miami Herald story:

''The guidance issued yesterday by the Treasury Department was issued pursuant to a law passed by Congress,'' White House spokeswoman Gannet Tseggai said Thursday.

''The president was not involved in the drafting of that provision, and it does not take the place of his own review of family visits and family cash remittances,'' she added.

Americans who care need to add their weight to the Administration's discussion so the President does not stop at family travel. A Citizens' Appeal for engagement with President Obama on Cuba can be seen here in the just posted newsletter of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

The extent to which the other side is in a state of aggressive denial can be seen in a leaked internal memo from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC

the mobilization of Democratic Members of Congress, and their aggressive outreach to the White House and Leadership on this issue has made it clear to the Obama Administration that there is a very vocal majority, bipartisan coalition in Congress that opposes even the slightest changes to current policy

Also possible is that the White House concludes that there are a few unreconcilables so married to narrow sectarian interests that they are ready to expose their Party and President to a week of diversionary and politically costly debate about embarrassing Congressional earmarks and ballooning deficits.

While some advisers may counsel accommodating them to avoid future problems, others will note that once the President changes travel policy to the maximum non-tourist level, that issue is over as a direct White House concern. The bitter end opponents can't do much beyond grumbling to their donors and their shrinking piece of the Florida and New Jersey community,

The tactic of putting the Cuba language in the Omnibus Appropriations bill foreclosed amendments in the House, but gave disproportionate power to two Democrats in the Senate whose votes prevented cloture. The reverse will apply to the stand alone full travel bill. There should not be a major problem in obtaining subcommittee and committee approval and assembling sixty Senate votes to end travel restrictions, but the House will afford more difficult terrain at all stages.
I am of mixed feelings about how Secretary Geithner addressed the precedent setting creation of a new general license category for the marketing or agricultural and medical products. OFAC has not yet published regulations in this area but his intent is clear and reasonable:

"regulations promulgated pursuant to that provision will seek to ensure that only travel for credible sales of food and medical products is authorized."

The problem lies in implementation.

"Any business using the general license will be required to provide both advance written notice outlining the purpose and scope of the planned travel and, upon return, a report outlining the activities conducted, including the persons with whom they met, the expenses incurred, and business conducted in Cuba."

Pre and post trip notification requirements are an annoyance and are hard to independently verify, except in cases of egregious public violation. A more relevant control is inherent in the nature of a general license, i.e. it applies to a category of people based on who they are and the reasonableness that travel is consistent with their professional or avocational identity.

OFAC may be tempted to apply a similar formula to grant general licenses for other forms of non-tourist travel like educational, religious and humanitarian. This requirement would be petty and unnecessary but is preferable to a time consuming and politicized vetting process of applications for specific licenses. (More on general vs. specific licenses here )

Senator Dodd pushed back arguing this novel restrictiveness of the meaning of a general license violated the intent of the new law in a letter posted by Phil Peters.


Obama's campaign statements on unlimited and unrestricted travel vs. how Sen. Nelson mischaracterized them during the Omnibus debate can be seen here

Cuba: Obama's "Relaxation Measures" Tippy Toe in Right Direction , Sort Of....


I haven't had time yet to digest the Obama administration's "relaxation" of restrictions in US-Cuba relations. I'm on a boat -- and sailing in the vicinity of Cuba tomorrow, though in Curacao today.

But I will say that the Obama team needs to prepare for an onslaught of frustration and anger regarding anything that designates certain "ethnic categories" of Americans.

Relaxing Cuban-American travel is discriminatory against other Americans. We have had too much law and too many norms that didn't permit some classes of Americans access to. . .hmm. . .let's say the White House and many other positions and opportunities.

Communist governments often tell their citizens where and when they can go somewhere.

An American government only soils its own reputation by trying to restrict the travel of US citizens -- in a way not dissimilar than what the Soviets did, or the Chinese government used to do, or even the Cuban government today.

Obama needs to show the "courage of his convictions" and stand up for American democratic values with regard to US citizens. Restricting travel for any US citizens as payoff to a cabal that run a political machine in Miami is a gross violation of the social contract American citizens have with their government.

Even the George W. Bush administration for the first three years of its tenure allowed non-tourist people-to-people travel and exchange. Engagement works and would benefit American interests in the region. From what I can tell, Obama does not even go back to the status quo under the last Bush administration. That's a shame, and it's wrong.

Opening opportunities for "Cuban-Americans" as opposed to other "Americans" is something one can hardly imagine a man like Barack Obama doing.

It's wrong. He should fix this immediately. Or expect a wave of dissent about the racism and discrimination that Obama is apparently upholding in these "relaxation" moves.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note.

Senate Omnibus Debate Targets Cuba


Yesterday in the Senate debate on the Omnibus Appropriations bill Bob Menendez (D, NJ) delivered a long and impassioned speech against Cuba. Any policy change we can imagine had a condition attached which would make it a non-starter in Havana. In the case of even family travel he took a position reflective of his long links to hard liners in Miami.

In exchange for more frequent visits from Cuban-American families who bring money and resources to the island, let us insist that the Cuban regime permit those who want to travel to Cuba and visit human rights activists, democracy activists, independent journalists, and other civil society advocates, be given visas as well.

He threatened that the Cuba language, "put the Omnibus bill in jeopardy".

After he spoke, Senator Reid took the floor, expressing warmly his long association with Menendez:

As the distinguished Senator from New Jersey knows, I have locked arms with Congressman and now Senator from New Jersey for many years. In fact, my votes in years past have not always been in the majority, but they have always been something I felt comfortable doing and still feel comfortable doing.

I appreciate the statement made by my friend from New Jersey. I am committed to work with him to see what we can do to resolve the injustice that is taking place 90 miles off the shore of America and, once and for all, give those people who live in Las Vegas--people do not realize the largest number of Cuban Americans live in Florida, next is New Jersey, and, surprisingly, next is Nevada.

I worked with my friends there, Tony Alamo and many others, over the years to try to bring justice to an unjust system. I appreciate very much the statement made by my friend from New Jersey. I look forward to working with him on all other issues.

Reid did not say he would support Menendez' goal of stripping the Cuba language from the bill. A news story says Bill Nelson, Florida's Democratic Senator, favors inclusion of the Cuba language

Amendments will be accepted for debate, but the Democrats may try to vote down all of them in order to get the bill adopted by Friday and avoid its return to the House.

However, if Menendez and Martinez succeed in blocking the Cuba language with Reid's help, this bodes ill for a stand alone Cuba travel bill. It also could have a negative effect on the Administration's interagency policy review.

[Look here for the Cuba language. See below for my previous posts on the Omnibus bill.]

CUBA: Big Changes in Castro's Guard

raul catro white shirt.jpgSomething big is up in Havana. So big that some are saying that Fidel Castro has finally moved on to the next world -- though I don't believe this to be the case.

Others are saying that they saw Fidel out in public today on an odd shuffling, walk about, flanked by well armed security guards -- and a trailing Mercedes.

What has happened is that Raul Castro, now President of Cuba, has sacked his brother's closest followers and advisers in government.

Both Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque have been given pink slips. These were Fidel's most obvious heir apparents and his chief ideological spear carriers in the next generation of Cuban political leadership.

This is one of those historical pivot points in normally opaque (often Communist) regimes that will be remembered for generations.

Raul Castro seems fully in control now -- and he's done with ideology.

Raul not only demands pragmatism from his team, he wants a government that "works" and which can function with greater efficiency than the past. This is particularly the case given the grim reality that the global economic crisis is hitting Cuba hard -- as the price of oil has made Venezuela's patronage less robust and global tourism to and investment in Cuba have both taken significant hits in recent months.

Ideology is on feeble legs throughout Cuba despite Senator Bob Menendez's anachronistic screed on the floor of the Senate this afternoon about Cuba's governing villains. Menendez today seemed to be pining for the enemies of the past, so the warped politics of anti-Cuba, anti-Castro compulsive obsessiveness could live another day.

But Menendez is behind the times and has been complicit in undermining American national interests with Cuba for far too long -- and he and others in Cuba who have strangled opportunity for a new course in US-Cuba relations should pay a political price for for their destructive intransigence. Menendez should go check in with his friends at the formerly right wing Cuban American National Foundation who for the most part think that pols like Menendez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balart brothers in Congress, and their Democratic Party ally Debbie Wassmerman Schulz went way too far in strangling Cuban-American family emergency travel and financial remittances.

We are at one of those significant punctuation points in Cuban history.

We may be at a real moment of opportunity in US-Cuba relations if Obama's team of foreign policy hands can find the guts and smarts to realize that it was wrong during the Bush administration for a Cold War with Cuba to actually get colder over the last ten years -- and to realize that incrementalism only works in times of historical continuity.

As Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Baker, David Abshire, Paul Volcker, Thomas Pickering, George Soros, Bill Joy, Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Francis Fukuyama, and many others have said -- this is a time of significant "historical discontinuity."

Change is needed and is a smarter, better choice than incrementalism and inertia.

Let's not see a Foreign Affairs article written this next year titled "Who Lost Cuba?"

Cuba matters a great deal -- far beyond its 11 million people and beyond even Latin America. Cuba is the ripest fruit for picking on America's tree of foreign policy options.

Change there can happen at extremely low cost to the United States. And America's approach will telegraph much about exactly what kind of America Barack Obama is trying to usher forth in this next phase of restoring U.S. benign moral, economic and political prestige. . .and power.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

Brookings Offers Obama a Roadmap


“I didn’t come here to do the same thing we have been doing or to take small steps forward. I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.â€Â

--President Barack Obama, radio/internet address 2/28/09

“Obama's leadership is needed to change the dynamic between the United States and Cuba. The status quo is no longer an option. Not only has it failed to achieve its goals; it has tarnished our image in the hemisphere and throughout the world. Waiting for Congress to act will only further delay change. Fortunately, even in the case of Cuba, Congress has not materially impaired this country's venerable constitutional arrangement under which the president has the ultimate authority to conduct our foreign affairs.

Again and again we hear that the embargo can't be changed because the Helms-Burton law codified it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you agree or disagree with the current commercial embargo, the president can effectively dismantle it by using his executive authority.â€Â

--Carlos Pascual and Vicki Huddleston, Miami Herald Op Ed

If President Obama brings the same boldness to international problems as he shows domestically (above quote), and if intellectual and policy expertise matters, his Administration’s interagency review of US relations with Cuba will be a breakthrough--and receive a warm welcome. (A compilation of studies and statements released in the past year can be found here.)

Last week began with a compelling letter from Senator Richard Lugar and far reaching recommendations from senior Foreign Relations Committee staff member Carl Meacham. (pdf here) It concluded with an eminently practical road map to normalization drawn up by a diverse group under the sponsorship of the Brookings Institution.

The project directors were Carlos Pascual, Vice-President and Director of Foreign Policy Studies at Brookings (a rumored prospect for an important State Department post), and Vicki Huddleston, Visiting Fellow and former head of the US Interests Section in Havana (a member of the State Department transition team). Membership ranged from pro-engagement professors, a scholar at a prominent conservative think tank, and former European ambassadors--to a Cuban American denounced by Havana as a terrorist.

From the preface, which suggests how large a departure this is from the hostile rhetoric and policy of the previous Administration and much of the past five decades:

It should be understood that a policy of critical and constructive engagement -- while having as a goal evolution to a peaceful and democratic Cuba -- does not promise an overnight metamorphosis. It is a process, a pathway with various detours and obstacles that over time arrives at its destination. It will take Cuban cooperation to achieve a real improvement in relations, but we should not publicly link the initiatives to specific actions of the Cuban government.

The road map was divided into short, medium and long-term initiatives. Go on line here to review the whole list because their achievement step by step constitute a practical road map to full normal relations. Following are selected points which I found particularly positive:

ïÂ® Remove all restrictions on family and humanitarian travel to Cuba.

ïÂ® Permit and expand specific licenses for people-to-people travel for educational, cultural and humanitarian purposes -- all travel permitted under law.

ïÂ® Allow all Cubans who meet requirements of U.S. immigration law to travel to the United States.

ïÂ® Provide licensing for providers of U.S. government and private assistance in order to advance the goals of U.S. policy identified in this report.

ïÂ® License Cuban state and non-state entities to access satellite and broadband communications networks.

ïÂ® Review the evidence to determine if Cuba should continue to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

ïÂ® Conduct a review of the purpose, content and implementation capacity of the new contracts awarded to private companies and non-governmental organizations during the last months of the Bush Administration

ïÂ® Encourage and fund a wide variety of educational exchanges and scholarships that promote understanding and provide training in diverse fields such as arts, economics, and journalism.

ïÂ® Allow licenses for U.S. companies to participate in the development of Cuban offshore oil, gas and renewable energy resources.

ïÂ® Work with Congress to restore Executive Branch authority over travel to Cuba.

ïÂ® Reach mutually acceptable solution for restoring Cuban sovereignty over the territory of Guantanamo Bay.

Huddleston told the Miami Herald that the position on travel restrictions reflected differences within the group. Returning travel authority to the executive is a step back from most similar policy documents and pending legislation to end all obstacles to American visits although it could amount to the same thing. Internal differences may also be the reason for the counterproductive stipulation of specific rather than general licenses for people to people travel which requires OFAC bureaucratic vetting and forces trips within groups. There is no direct reference to ending the embargo, but nor is there endorsement of making that step conditional on actions by Cuba. Lifting the embargo could be implied by the final recommendation:

ïÂ® Achieve full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

The road map contains a welcome dramatic departure from similar reports by calling for the return of the territory of Guantanamo Bay. This might reflect that all Cubans, whether leaders in Havana or alienated exiles, share a view that US control of the base compromises their country’s sovereignty, was forced on them as a classic unequal treaty, and is the sole surviving provision of the shameful Platt Amendment.

I don't agree with every recommendation, or with the premise that any country should have a "goal" for another, but the Obama Administration could do far worse than adopt this road map as its own.

Cuba: Low Hanging Fruit for Obama

Ripe mangos in Cuba, by Lergik.

When President Barack Obama looks out the curved windows of the Oval Office and ponders where in the world he can get a decisive foreign policy victory, the landscape is pretty bleak. His special envoys, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell have been assigned the most complex negotiations. Chris Hill, fresh off the six party talks over North Korea's nuclear program, is decamping for Baghdad, at last report. Dennis Ross is sitting in the cat bird's seat on Iran policy. Secretary of State Clinton has taken China on.

But none of those problems will yield a major victory anytime soon. That is not acceptable for a new, young president who has to send signals both to the international community and to the folks back home that not only can he deploy diplomats effectively, but that he can close the deal and win a principled victory for America overseas.

Cuba, however, is a different story. This article from Reuters makes the case clearly: the domestic politics and the changes in leadership here and in Havana are all lining up to give Obama the chance to get that win and change the perception of America abroad while ending a dysfunctional era in the politics of a state with 10 percent of the electoral college votes.

Here's a snip:

“Latin Americans would view U.S. engagement with Cuba as a demonstration that the United States understands their perspectives on the history of U.S. policy in the region and no longer insists that all of Latin America must share U.S. hostility to a 50-year-old regime,â€Â the Foreign Relations Committee staff report said. “The resulting improvement to the United States’ image in the region would facilitate the advancement of U.S. interests.â€Â

Portraying normal relations with Cuba as something that serves U.S. national interests strengthens the case of a growing number of lawmakers and business groups who think it is time to remove the last vestige of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere. It would also provide backing for Obama if he were inclined to go beyond his campaign promises on Cuba â€â€ easing restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money to relatives there.

In the words of Steve Clemons, a Latin America expert at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, Cuba is “the lowest hanging ripe fruit on America’s tree of foreign policy options. Change is easy there â€â€ and overdue.â€Â

Pork Over Politics: Omnibus moves from House to Senate


The House voted 245-178 on February 25th to pass the Omnibus Appropriations bill.

As summarized by Lesley Clark and Frances Robles in the Miami Herald, it will

* Prevent the U.S. government from spending any of its budget enforcing 2004 rules that keep Cuban-Americans from visiting their homeland more than once every three years.

* Create a general travel license for Americans who sell food and medical supplies to Cuba.

* Let Cuba pay for the American products it buys in cash when they arrive in Havana. Current law forces Cuba to pay upfront before products leave U.S. ports.

* Require the U.S. Treasury Department to issue a report showing how much of its staff and funding is spent on enforcing the ban on travel to Cuba.

Robles today diminished its significance by leading with a more cynical but possibly accurate view that the bill

tweaked U.S.-Cuba policy,making it easier for Cuban Americans to get away with illegally traveling to the communist country

The only Cuba related intervention during the debate came from Miami hard liner Lincoln Diaz-Ballart. However instead of denouncing the travel and agricultural provisions, he just wanted to be sure that $20 million of Cuba "democracy" funding that largely benefits his supporters in Miami was still in the bill. Rep. Nita Lowey, the manager of that part of the legislation, reassured him that his pork was safe.

His Democratic soul mate, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (photo above), also spoke but her comments were entirely in favor of the bill, skewering its Republican opponents. Not a word did she utter about the dastardly Cuba language .

The bill was debated under a no amendments rule so there was not much they could really do to challenge its content.

The test comes very soon in the Senate where Majority Leader Reid said he wants to complete work on the legislation by the end of next week when stopgap funding runs out. Senators have privileges that could allow travel opponents Martinez and Menendez to hold the bill hostage if the Cuba language stays in.

As reported by Bill Gibson in his Sun-Sentinel weblog

Florida Senator Mel Martinez this afternoon threatened to block a big spending bill that would ease restrictions on Cuban-American travel to visit relatives in Cuba....

Martinez, a Republican, said he would object to consideration of the bill. It’s a procedural move that would force the bill’s supporters to round up 60 votes to overcome delays that would kill it, a modern form of filibuster.

The bill returns travel for Cuban Americans only to the less restrictive formula of the Clinton Administration, annual visits to a normal definition of family that includes cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. However it does so by blocking enforcement of existing law and regulations rather than by changing them.

An Associated Press story suggests that the travel may need to go through third countries:

Tessie Aral, owner of ABC Charters in Miami, said that because of the way the measure is written, she worries individuals won't be prosecuted for traveling to Cuba, but companies arranging the trips may be targeted.

"This is not what President Obama promised," Aral said. "If it only stops enforcement, I still can't sell you a ticket knowing I'm going to break a law."

The leading voice for the campaign on behalf of family travel in Miami went further in an editorial in Progresso Weekly pressing President Obama to keep the promise of his campaign and the Democratic Party platform for unlimited Cuban American travel and remittances:

in our opinion, the Cuba travel piece should be removed completely from the Omnibus Bill making the rounds in Washington, DC.

Finally, what we would like to stress to the president is that every time a family member dies in Cuba, alone; a son, daughter or nephew sits in the hospital with little hope of seeing a loved one who lives in the U.S.; every minute that passes while family members are kept apart for political reasons, is yet another black mark on one of the most un-American and cruel pieces of legislation passed in this country over the last 20 years.

Methods of agricultural sales also are normalized by dint of preventing expenditure of funds for enforcement of politically motivated obstructions created by the Bush Administration. On the other hand, travel for the purpose of sales of agricultural and medical products received a general license, i.e. no application necessary.

Reuters saw the economic implications this way

The legislation approved by the House does not lift the overall embargo. But it would prohibit the Treasury Department from enforcing Bush administration rules requiring payment of cash in advance for agricultural sales to Cuba.

Analysts believe that U.S. rice sales to Cuba will soar if the provision becomes law. Rice sales declined every year after the cash-in-advance rules were imposed in 2005, because Cuba could turn to Vietnam -- a country with which it has close ties -- for rice on easier terms.

Lawyers will sort out the exact implications. The crucial element is that implementation will be by officials in the Treasury and Commerce Department answering to a different more pro-engagement political drum. Before they expire on September 30th, all provisions will probably be supplanted by more fundamental change available through executive orders and notices in the Federal Register or by new legislation.

The BBC went to the core of the issue:

The measures announced in the US bill represent a first move in broader efforts to ease the US trade embargo and end travel restrictions for all Americans.

However the path is not certain report Clark and Robles:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who backs the current restrictions, said she believes the travel measure wouldn't pass on its own, because most Republicans and about 80 Democrats are opposed.

Winning the battle begins in the Obama Administration whose allies and supporters must insist to the White House and to Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, that vision and boldness be the product of the interagency review, including general licenses for all non-tourist people to people travel.

The question is still in play, as the Miami Herald also reported today

Cuba watchers say it's unclear whether he will lift restrictions not just for Cuban Americans, but for American academics, church groups and others as well. Key administration posts in charge of such decisions have yet to be filled.


The link changed for Sen. Lugar's excellent letter calling for a new policy and Carl Meacham's far reaching report after the final text was issued, although the PDF appears to be the same version as the draft.

Omnibus Appropriations Bill First Step on Cuba


The House debate on the Omnibus Appropriations bill has begun on or TV
(and can be viewed later in its archive).

The bill contains language on Cuba with several positive aspects that was inserted by Representative Serano with the assistance of Representative Castor. It should be considered a significant forward step that shows how the majority can use the rules to its favor and is upsetting to the hard liners in Florida. Passage helps build momentum for stronger action by the Obama administration and Congress.

It will be interesting regarding prospects for legislation to end all travel restrictions to see whether Sen Martinez can use Senate rules to block the bill, Sen. Menendez (pictured above) gets involved and Sen Reid accommodates him. (See Miami Herald story and on line poll here.)

However if the legislation survives intact, it is only a partial victory. The section on Cuban American travel is non-enforcement language. It does not suspend or reverse the law. Oddly travel for agricultural sales receives a general license but not family or other non-tourist travel. OFAC's politically distorted role in the Bush Administration is also a target.

[Text of Cuba language can be seen here.]

Passage will effectively enable at least annual Cuban American travel for the balance of the fiscal year. However, it does not remove from President Obama the responsibility to use his authority to enable general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist people to people travel, including Cuban American, educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and "support for the Cuban people".

The comment page of the Office of Public Liaison can be used to put all non-tourist travel on the agenda of the interagency review of Cuba policy through this link.

The urgency and importance of making your voice heard to President Obama is reflected in a report yesterday from our friend and colleague in Miami Silvia Wilhelm.

Senator Menendez was on Miami TV right now very positive that the only thing the administration is going to allow is a roll back to the Clinton era family travel and that absolutely NOTHING else is going to move and that if it came down to listening to Lugar or him and others in the community, Obama would listen to him and others.