On Thursday, July 22nd, Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor became the latest House member and the first from Florida’s congressional delegation to join the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 874). The act, introduced in the 111th Congress by Reps. Delahunt (D-MA) and Flake (R-AZ), aims to restore the right of each and every U.S. citizen to travel to Cuba, a policy shift endorsed recently by Cuba’s most prominent opposition figures and 64 percent of Cuban Americans.
In a statement released by her office, Congresswoman Castor, whose district includes Tampa Bay, said, “The approval of Tampa as a Cuba charter flight airport combined with a new ability of all U.S. citizens and legal residents to travel to Cuba would boost our region’s economy and create new jobs.” That’s exactly right. Besides being good for U.S. citizens and good for the Cuban people, opening travel to Cuba would be a boon for the U.S. travel industry and wider economy. In 2002, the Brattle Group forecasting firm estimated that repealing the travel ban would boost the economy by upwards of one billion dollars and create between 9,000 and 16,000 new jobs. Given its proximity to Cuba, Tampa is, of course, in a prime position to reap these economic benefits.
While Rep. Castor’s decision was clearly motivated first and foremost by a desire to do what’s best for her district, she’s also concerned for everyday Cubans and seems to believe that moving away from a policy of isolation is the best way to stand alongside them, echoing the views of credible human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. In the congresswoman’s own words, “I also will continue to call for improved human rights in Cuba and believe that improved travel, education and cultural exchanges can provide greater attention to human rights… the negotiated release of 52 political prisoners by the Catholic Church is a positive step.”
Rep. Castor has not yet signed on to a similar bill, Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson’s Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645), which would boost U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba, in addition to lifting travel restrictions on U.S. citizens. However, Rep. Castor’s decision to become a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act shows that she’s committed to travel and is likely to oppose any effort to strip travel from Peterson’s bill should it come to the House floor for a vote.
Congresswoman Castor deserves to be applauded for putting her district, constituents, and U.S. citizens ahead of the desperate, discredited calls made by some of her Florida congressional colleagues to keep the ineffective, unethical, and unconstitutional travel ban in place. With a Florida congressperson on board, we’re hopeful that more and more members will have the courage to vote the wishes of Cuban Americans, the American public, and many of Cuba’s opposition leaders.
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