At 10.00 am on Nov 19, 2009, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs is going to hold a hearing titled ‘Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba? This is the first hearing on this matter since after the Democrats took over Congress. And even before the hearing commences, the battle has already begun in the media.
US Congress Hearing - Cuba Travel Ban
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) penned a joint piece with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) in the Miami Herald.
In the article, Rep. Berman & Sen. Lugar say that “U.S. travelers’ dollars could aid the underground economy and the small self-employed sector permitted by the state, strengthening an important foundation of independence from Cuba’s authoritarian system.”
They close with the statement that “Sometimes a travel ban may be necessary, but nothing about the Cuba situation today justifies such an infringement on our basic liberties.”
Orbitz Worldwide, which launched the OpenCuba.org petition in May 2009 in support of removing travel restrictions to Cuba, chipped in with the announcement that the petition drive had collected over 100,000 signatures.
Barney Harford, president and CEO of Orbitz Worldwide is quoted in the Havana Times as saying that ”Never before in the history of the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba has there been such an upwelling of popular support for change.”
On the other side, Bloomberg News came up with a piece which claims that a repeal of the travel ban without scrapping the overall trade embargo would end up putting the money spent by US travelers to Cuba into the hands of non-US travel companies like Spain based Sol Media, which manages 24 hotels in Cuba.
The article claims that, on the contrary, opening up Cuba for US travelers would drain tourists and revenue from US providers on other Caribbean resorts.
Legislation to repeal the travel ban on Cuba – The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act – has been introduced in both the U.S. House (H.R. 874) and Senate (S. 428).
The House also has pending legislation (H.R. 188 – Cuba Reconciliation Act) to scrap the entire trade embargo. Most US based travel companies, inspite of being denied access to the market, favor repeal of the travel ban as a first step in the battle to end the trade embargo.
A middle way would be for Congress to throw in an amendment exempting US based travel and hospitality companies from the trade embargo, so that they can set up operations in Cuba and cash in on the rush of US travelers heading for a vacation in Havana.
In September, the US Govt. amended the laws to allow US telecom companies to offer their services in Cuba. Something similar could possibly be worked out for selected travel companies. They would, of course, need similar approval from Cuba.
Witnesses providing testimony at the hearing on Thursday include Retired General Barry R. McCaffrey, of BR McCaffrey Associates, LLC; Ambassador James Cason – former Chief of Mission in Havana; and Ms. Berta Antunez – Sister of former political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia.