Senate rebukes Bush on Cuba

By a voice vote, the U.S. Senate last week approved an amendment to the Department of Transportation bill that would strip the government of all funding for the enforcement of its much-criticized ban on travel to Cuba. The vote came after a motion to strip the amendment from the Transportation and Treasury Department appropriations bill failed 59-36.

The Senate action was notable for the number of Republican senators (16) who broke with party discipline to vote against the president. A total of five Democrats (Corzine, Graham, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Nelson and Reid) voted with the administration, but this was not enough to stop this important measure.

The vote followed a similar one on Sept. 9 in the House (227-118). As the wording of the House and Senate versions of the amendment is identical, normal procedure would not allow it to be changed in the House-Senate conference committee. Last year, Congress passed a similar amendment only to see it eliminated by parliamentary trickery at the conference committee stage, and opponents of the U.S.-imposed Cuba blockade are calling for vigilance so that this does not happen again.

President Bush has said he will veto the whole bill if the amendment is not somehow removed.

The dynamic that is driving the Republican defections from the Bush policy on Cuba has mostly to do with the desire of farm states to expand trade with Cuba, which at present can only be conducted on a cash basis. However, there is also an element of annoyance with the administration for wasting resources of the Homeland Security Department on the Cuban non-threat while there is supposedly a war on terrorism going on.

Most observers of congressional action on Cuba are of the opinion that the blow against travel sanctions reflects a much wider desire in Congress and in the U.S. public to find a new opening in U.S.-Cuba relations.

However, the Bush administration is continuing to increase the pressure on Cuba and on people who have dealings with Cuba. It is reported that government agents are now boarding airplanes leaving Miami bound for Havana, to interrogate Cuba-bound travelers as to the legality of their trips. Academic and other licenses to visit Cuba legally are to be cut back, in conformity with a promise President Bush made this month to one of his principal ally groups, right-wing Cuban exiles in South Florida.

The U.S. government is also telling scientific journals that they may not edit for publication articles sent to them by Cuban scientists. A letter from the Office of Foreign Asset Controls sent to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers informed the Institute that if they accepted such articles for publication, they would not be allowed to make changes in grammar without a government license, because to do so would be to provide “material aid” to the authors and thus, by extension, to Cuba.

The author, who would like to thank Jane B. Franklin and Debra Evenson for their information, can be reached at