Momentum in Washington for eliminating travel ban to Cuba
According to the Washington Post, “there is new momentum in Washington for eliminating the ban on most U.S. travel to the island nation and for reexamining the severe limitations on U.S.-Cuban economic exchanges.”
When asked about the prospect of Americans to travel to Cuba before the end of the year, Sarah Stephens, said: “It is within the realms of possibility.” (The Guardian)
In a Senate news conference on Tuesday and a House news conference on Thursday, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers introduced The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act; a bill that would extend the right to travel to Cuba to all Americans. Proponents of the bill claim that the proposal will not only grant American citizens their right to travel and boost American commerce in the region, but that it will also weaken the Castro regime and make a difference for democracy in Cuba, Fox News reported.
The bill has 121 sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. The list of sponsors also include eight Democratic committee chairmen) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., supports it, her office said, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Tuesday he believes the Senate has enough votes to pass it.
“I think we have finally reached a new (level) on this issue,” Dorgan said.
At both news conferences, Cuban-Americans and Congressmen issued strong arguments for the passage of the bill to rooms packed with journalists.
Bill Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democratic congressman, said the bill was “critical to the freedom of both Americans and Cubans”. (Telegraph)
The legislators were joined by both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation in their support for lifting travel restrictions to the small island nation.
“The US embargo on Cuba is a 50-year failure, and lifting the ban on travel is a good first step toward a more rational policy,” said Chamber of Commerce officer Myron Brilliant in a press release issued this week.
Human rights groups have also joined their voices in support of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. Jose Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, expressed his support for the bill in a statement that argued the current policy “has neither weakened the Cuban government” nor improved conditions for Cuba’s political prisoners, reported the Miami Herald.
U.S. Members of Congress to visit Cuba this weekend
A delegation of U.S. representatives will arrive in Cuba this afternoon, MSNBC News reported.
The trip is being led by Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) and Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI), who will be joined by Maxine Waters (CA), Mell Watt (NC), Bobby Rush (IL), Emanuel Cleaver (MO), Shelia Jackson Lee (TX), Mike Honda (CA), Marcia Fudge (OH), Nydia Velazquez (NY), Laura Richardson (CA), Diane Watson (CA), and Andre Carson (IN).
“The election of President Barack Obama presents a great new opportunity to rethink U.S. foreign policy in many regions of the world,” Lee said in a statement yesterday. “America’s harsh approach toward our nearest Caribbean neighbor divides families, closes an important market to struggling U.S. farmers, harasses our allies and is based on antiquated Cold War-era thinking.”
The members are expected to be in Cuba for at least four days and will deliver a report to the White House with their findings.
You can read the MSNBC News article here.
VP Biden: “transition” in Cuba policy needed, no plans to lift embargo
During a visit last weekend to Chile, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was asked if the United States is planning to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, the Associated Press reported.
Biden said the U.S. is not planning to scrap the embargo, but that a “transition” is needed in U.S. policy toward Cuba.
The “Cuban people should determine their own fate and they should be able to live in freedom,” Biden said, adding that he was in Chile “to talk about the economy, not Cuba.”
Two days later in Costa Rica, Biden said “Washington expects a ‘firm commitment’ that Cuba is moving towards democracy and respect for human rights before lifting the US embargo on the island, the Agence France-Presse reported.
“Over in the next decade and sooner there is likely to be — and needs to be — changes in the relationship between Cuba and the Unites States, and the United States and Cuba, as well as with the hemisphere,” Biden said at a press conference on Monday.
“President Obama and I campaigned on a platform that said we are willing to reach out,” Biden said, “and I think you will see us reach out.”
You can read the Associated Press article here.
You can read the Agence France-Presse article here.
Fidel Castro reacts to Biden’s comments
Fidel Castro quickly reacted to Biden’s comments, publishing a “reflection” in which he wrote Biden’s “professional lamentations make one feel sorry for him, especially when there isn’t one Latin American or Caribbean government that doesn’t perceive [the embargo] a burden of the past.”
“Anyone reading the statements of the devout Catholic Joe Biden in Viña del Mar, discounting any lifting of the economic blockade of Cuba, and yearning for an internal transition that, in our country, would be frankly counterrevolutionary, is in for a shock,” Castro wrote.
“What are the underlying ethics in the policy of the United States? How much Christian content is left in the political thinking of Vice President Joe Biden?” Castro questioned.
You can read Fidel Castro’s reflection here.
Judge dismisses Cuban lawsuit on Havana Club trademark
A Cuban lawsuit over the termination of U.S. trademark rights for its Havana Club rum was dismissed on Monday by a federal judge, the Associated Press reported.
Although Cuba’s Havana Club can not be sold in the U.S. due to the embargo, the company received a trademark for the name in 1976, anticipating opportunities to sell the rum in the U.S. after the lifting of the embargo. However, three years ago the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control refused to allow renewal of the trademark, causing Cubaexport, Cuba’s state-owned export enterprise, to file a lawsuit.
The ruling is a victory for Bacardi, which has attempted to take over the brand name as its own in the United States and feared that Cuba’s Havana Club could become a threat to their rum sales in the United States after the lifting of the embargo. Bacardi lobbied hard to get Congress to pass a law in 1998 that prevents the registration or renewal of trademarks connected with companies nationalized by the Cuban government. That law was cited in Monday’s ruling.
You can read the Associated Press article here.
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