The U.S. Senate voted 59-36 to bar the Bush administration from using government funds to enforce restrictions on travel to Cuba. The measure, included in the Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill, is expected to draw the president's first veto.
The Cuba travel amendment obviously was supported by several farm-state Republican senators who believe it is time to “help Americans share the lesion of democracy and freedom and expand opportunities for trade,” as Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts put it.
House members approved a similar measure earlier by a vote of 227-188. Neither the House nor the Senate votes on the amendment would be enough to override a presidential veto.
The Bush administration contends lifting the ban would provide encouragement to Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro. But many Washington observers believe the White House refuses to support lifting such bans because of the Cuban-American vote in south Florida.
The amendment was introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and supported by Sens. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Roberts told reporters he believes Castro is using the trade and travel sanctions as an excuse for his failed economic policies.
Treasury Department officials estimate that about 160,000 Americans, half of them Cuban-Americans visiting family members, traveled to Cuba legally last year. Thousands of other Americans visit illegally by way of third countries, risking fines and imprisonment, analysts believe.
Farm organizations and congressional groups have become more aggressive in seeking an end to such restrictions, citing evidence the four-decades-old sanctions have not worked and only serve to deny a significant market to U.S. agricultural products.
Some opening of the Cuba market has occurred, and U.S. exporters have shipped more than 55,000 metric tons of rice, for example, since the first sales in 40 years occurred in December 2001.
“The sanction policy of the United States has been ineffective since it was adopted in 1962,” the House-Senate Cuba Working Group wrote in a letter to the Senate leadership recently. “Other nations trade with Cuba, and their producers benefit from that trade. The U.S. policy places our farmers, workers and companies at a competitive disadvantage.”
The working group cited estimates that the United States loses out on an export market of nearly $1 billion per year because of the failure to fully lift sanctions such as the restrictions on travel.