Should the travel ban to Cuba be lifted? This question is expected to come up for a vote in Congress early this month. The legislation, HR 4645, also promises to create an estimated 6,000 jobs in the U.S. by clearing away obstacles to making U.S. farm produce available to Cuban consumers.
Few governments impose such harsh travel restrictions on their citizens as the U.S. For 50 years, travel by Americans to one of their closest neighboring nations, Cuba, has been prohibited.
This could be the first up-or-down vote in Congress to do away with the travel ban, according to Mavis Anderson of the Washington-based Latin American Working Group.
Free travel to Cuba is supported by a majority of Americans including 67 percent of Cuban-Americans, says the group.
Congress approved agricultural sales to Cuba 10 years ago, but that trade has been sabotaged by administrative restrictions imposed by the Bush administration and still in place.
For example, Cuban purchasers are required to make payments through a third country. This adds not only extra time but also expense to the transaction. HR 4645 would allow banks in Cuba to wire their payments for agricultural produce directly to the U.S. bank of the producer.
The law would also eliminate the current requirement that shipments be paid for while still in U.S. ports, making them vulnerable to expropriation. The new legislation would allow the customary practice of payment upon arrival at their destination, Havana.
The bipartisan bill, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, is sponsored by Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan. It is expected to be voted out of the House Agriculture Committee this week.
The sponsors say the bill will create jobs in the U.S. in agriculture, travel, hospitality and dairy industries, all hard hit by the recession.
The Witness for Peace website provides an easy way for the public to contact their members of Congress and urge support for the bill.
Photo: Children in Havana, above, and in the U.S. would benefit from easing tensions and ending restrictions on agricultural trade. (PW/John Bachtell)