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Press Releases on the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act

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The following press releases were sent out by the offices of the Senators who, on April 30, 2003 introduced "The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act" in the Senate. Original cosponsors were Senators Enzi, Baucus, Bingaman, Dorgan and Chafee. Below are press releases in support of that bill from organizations that work with the LAWG on ending the embargo on Cuba

Press Release & Floor Statement on Introduction of the

"Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2003" by Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming

For Release: April 30, 2003
Contact: Coy Knobel
Web address: enzi.senate.gov

Senator Enzi seeks to change stagnant Cuba policy

Washington, D.C. – "If you keep on doing what you have always have been doing then you are going to wind up getting what you already got."

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said his father's saying nicely sums up what the U.S. is accomplishing with its Cuba policy.

Enzi and Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Larry Craig, R-Idaho, Mark Dayton, D-Minn. and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., introduced a bill today that would make a simple, but vivid change to an important aspect of U.S.-Cuban policy.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, S. 950, would allow Americans to travel to Cuba free of the draconian restrictions in place now.

Enzi outlined the merits of the bill and spoke about why now was a good time to introduce such a bill in a statement he gave on the Senate floor this morning. The text is included below.


Floor Statement on Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act
Senator Michael B. Enzi
April 30, 2003

In a few moments I am going to send a bill to the desk that will make a very small change in Cuba policy. It deals only with travel provisions to Cuba.

I've been watching Cuba since the 1960s. I went to college here at George Washington University and was there at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. I've had the opportunity to watch what's happened with Cuba through the years and I'm reminded of something my dad used to say – if you keep on doing what you have always been doing, you're going to wind up getting what you already got.

That's kind of been the situation with Cuba. We've been trying the same thing for 40 years – over 40 years, and it hasn't worked. So I'm suggesting a small change to maybe get a few more people in there to increase conversation for people that understand the way the United States works and the way Cuba works and how they ought to drift more rapidly towards where we are.

In recent weeks, as we shared the joy of the Iraqi people as they were liberated from the ruthless regime of Saddam Hussein, we also felt the pain of those in Cuba who had dared to speak out in a vain but valiant effort to demand those same freedoms for themselves. As they did, 75 Cuban citizens were arrested and received harsh sentences, some for more than 20 years, all for the crime of yearning to be free. Once again, Castro has shown himself to be his own worst enemy when it comes to Cuba's image overseas, and so, when faced with an outcry from around the world about his actions, he quickly tried to blame the United States for his own actions. It was a hard sell at best, and given the reactions we've seen from all sides of this issue, I don't think anyone is buying it.

Still, Castro's cruelty might tempt us to tighten the already strong restrictions on the relations between our two countries, but I hope we will not do that. If we increase the diplomatic pressure on the Cuban government that is now emanating from every corner of the world, we might be successful in bringing about a better way of life for the Cuban people.

If, however, we stop Cuban-Americans from bringing financial assistance to their families in Cuba, and end the people to people exchanges that have been so successful, and stop the sale of agricultural and medicinal products to Cuba, we will not be hurting the Cuban government we will be hurting the Cuban people by diminishing their faith and trust in the United States and reducing the strength of the ties that bind the people of our two countries.

If we allow more and freer travel to Cuba, if we increase trade and dialogue, we take away Castro's ability to blame the hardships of the Cuban people on the United States. In a very real sense, the better we try to make things for the Cuban people, the more we will reduce the level and the tone of the rhetoric used against us by Fidel Castro.

As I mentioned before, it seems foolish to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. In a way, that is what we are doing in Cuba. We are continuing to try to exert pressure from our side and, as we do, we are giving Castro a scapegoat to blame for the poor living conditions in his country in the process. It's time for a different policy, one that goes further than embargoes and replaces a restrictive and confusing travel policy with a new one that will more effectively help us to achieve our goals in that country.

Today, Senators Dorgan, Baucus, Bingaman and I are introducing the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

Our bill is very straightforward. It states that the President shall not prohibit, either directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or transactions incident to such travel.

In 1958 the Supreme Court affirmed our Constitutional right to travel, but the U.S. government then prohibited Americans from spending money in Cuba. We simply said, okay, you have a right to travel, but try traveling without spending a dime.

Most of us know that certain people can and do continue to travel to Cuba. Cuban-Americans can apply for a license to travel for humanitarian reasons to visit ailing family members and such, but this is not always convenient. One of the reasons I became involved in this issue is because a Cuban-American from Jackson, Wyoming, had been in Cuba visiting his family, doing his one visit a year. As he left and was on the plane coming back to Wyoming, one of his parents died. He couldn't go back there for a year. This is not a good situation for any family. Educational groups can apply for licenses to travel for scholarly reasons like educational opportunities and conferences. Members of the U.S. Government can travel for fact-finding reasons. But for the average American, the process is too complicated.

Even with the proper licenses, the regulations on where you can go and who you can talk to are confusing, misleading, and frustrating. Each year the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) levies fines on travelers who followed the law to the best of their ability. Fines and punishments are imposed without guidelines and seemingly at the whim of a nameless bureaucrat.
I must ask my colleagues why we are continuing to support a policy that was basically implemented 40 years ago. Why are we supporting a policy that has had little effect on the government we oppose? Why don't we improve our policy so that it will improve conditions for the Cuban people and their image of the United States?

The bill we are introducing today makes real change in our policy toward Cuba that will lead to real change for the people of Cuba. What better way to let the Cuban people know of our concern for their plight than for them to hear it from their friends, and extended family from the United States. Or let them hear it from the American people who will go there. The people of this country are our best ambassadors and we should let them show the people of Cuba what we as a nation are all about. One thing we should not do is to play into Castro's hands by enacting stricter and more stringent regulations and create a situation where the United States is easy to blame for the problems in Cuba.

Unilateral sanctions will not improve human rights for Cuban citizens. The rest of the world isn't doing what we're doing. They're being supplied by the rest of the world for everything that they need. Open dialogue and exchange of ideas and commerce can move a country toward democracy.

What better way to share the rewards of democracy than through people to people exchanges! We cannot stop that program. If the U.S. government continues on its current course to put an economic stranglehold on the Cuban government, the people of Cuba will surely suffer. Unilateral sanctions stop not just the flow of goods, but the flow of ideas. Ideas of freedom and democracy are the keys to positive change in any nation.

Some may ask why we want to increase dialogue right now, why open the door to Cuba when Castro is behaving so poorly. No one is denying that the actions of Castro and his government are deplorable, as is his refusal to provide basic human rights to his people. But if you truly believe that Castro is dictator with no good intentions, how can you say we should wait for him to behave before we engage. He controls the entire media there. The entire message that is coming out unless we have people interacting is his message. Keeping the door closed and hollering at Castro on the other side does nothing. Let's do something, let's open the door and talk to the Cuban people.

Travel and our other policies that deal with Cuba will continue to be a top priority for those of us in the newly formed Senate Cuba Working Group. The Working Group members have expressed their support for changes in our policies toward Cuba and we will continue to be a part of the dialogue on that.

I encourage all of my colleagues to take a look at this bill that has been introduced today. I know that there are people looking at it. I expect many more cosponsors on it. This is the most reasonable provision dealing with Cuba that has been presented during the six years that I've been here.

We've tried some bigger bites of the apple. They haven't worked. So we're moving back to the travel restrictions, a bill that is very limited. It allows you to travel and to have those things that are necessary for travel. For instance, you can't cut off the right to take baggage with you to Cuba. That's another way that the law can be subverted. It is a very straightforward travel policy that will get Americans into Cuba to talk to Cubans to promote the ideas that we believe in.

I ask my colleagues to join me in this effort, and I yield the floor.


Floor Statement on Cuba Travel Ban Legislation
Senator Max Baucus
April 30, 2003

 

Mr. President, I rise today to offer legislation – along with my colleagues Senator Enzi and Senator Dorgan – that would end the restrictions placed on travel to Cuba.

I understand our colleagues in the House will introduce companion legislation in the coming weeks. I look forward to working with my colleagues in both chambers – and on both sides of the aisle – as we move forward.

With this legislation, we are undertaking a serious cause. Repeal of the travel ban is long overdue.

There are numerous reasons to introduce this legislation, but I want to focus today on just two: first, the current situation in Cuba; and second, our troubled economy here at home.

Introduction of this legislation comes at a crucial time in U.S.-Cuba relations. Last month, nearly 80 Cuban dissidents were arrested. All of them have been sentenced to an average of almost 20 years in prison.

Democratic governments around the world, as well as human rights organizations and others – including myself and my colleagues in the Senate and House Cuba Working Groups – have harshly criticized the Castro regime for these appalling acts of repression.
Yet, throughout all of this, the Castro regime has remained defiant and undaunted.

Why? In my view it is because Castro wants the embargo to continue. Observers have noted an emerging pattern: every time we get close to more open relations, Castro shuts the process down with some repressive act, designed to have a chilling effect on U.S.-Cuban relations.

Castro fears an end to the embargo. He knows the day the embargo falls is the day he runs out of excuses. Without the embargo,  Castro would have no one to blame for the failing Cuban economy.

Nor would his way of governing be able to survive the influx of Americans and democratic ideas that would flood his island if the embargo were lifted.

Now, some Cuba watchers have predicted that the dissident arrests and the resulting decline of U.S.-Cuba relations are a death knell to the engagement debate in Washington.

I strongly disagree. And I think now – more than ever – a genuine, honest debate about the merits of the embargo is needed.
Some people seem to think tightening the embargo is a rational response to the Castro regime. I guess if you think an embargo can hurt Castro without hurting the Cuban people, then tightening the embargo might make some sense.

But it doesn't work that way. The embargo actually hurts the Cuban people much more than it hurts Castro.

This is why many Cuban dissidents, including Oswaldo Paya – the founder of the Varela Project – oppose our embargo and support engagement.

Indeed, after forty-three years, it ought to be clear to everyone that the embargo has failed to weaken Castro. A better approach is to reach out to the Cuban people. Ending the travel ban is the first and best way to do this.

If Castro fears contact between the Cuban people and the American people, the rational American response is to send more Americans, not fewer.

Of course, ending the travel ban would have benefits not only for the Cuban people, but also for Americans. Ending the travel ban would have an immediate and direct economic impact, beyond even the immediate travel sector.

Most importantly for my home state of Montana, ending the travel ban would help farmers and ranchers.

Americans are currently allowed to sell food and medicine to Cuba on a cash-basis. But there is a lot of red tape thrown in their way. And without the ability to travel to Cuba and develop the business contacts, the full potential of these sales is not realized.
In fact, one study has suggested that lifting the travel ban could result in an additional quarter billion dollars of agricultural sales, and create thousands of new jobs.

Ending the travel ban would bring benefits to both Cubans and to Americans. And that, after all, is what this debate should be about. Supporters of the embargo are so focused on hurting Castro that they actually strengthen him – at the expense of the Cuban people, and at the expense of our own economy.

I hope my colleagues will join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation. I believe it is the best way to show that we truly care about the Cuban people.

And indeed, if we truly care about democracy, then let us send Cuba exactly that. Let us travel to Cuba and show them democracy in action. Thank you.

 


Press Release: Center for International Policy

For Immediate Release
April 30, 2003
Statement of Dr. Wayne Smith, Former US Interests Section Chief in Havana, Cuba, Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy

"Legalizing travel to Cuba is needed now more than ever"

Dr. Wayne Smith, Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy, issued the following statement on the introduction of the bipartisan, "The Freedom to Travel To Cuba Act," S. 950, by Senators Enzi, Dorgan, Baucus, Bingaman, and Chafee:

  "Recent events prove once again that our policy of isolating Cuba -economic and diplomatically – strips the United States of our ability to influence events at critical moments; this policy has Been a notorious failure for 44 years.

"The existing policy punishes American citizens by curtailing their constitutional rights to travel, punishes U.S. air carriers and other U.S. businesses, and hurts average Cuban citizens, whose living standards and opportunities for human rights would both improve with open travel between the United States and Cuba.

"Rather than using the current crackdown to further minimize America's influence, the Senate sponsors of legislation to legalize travel by Americans to Cuba are suggesting the best approach for extending America's influence and ideals is by empowering our citizens to be ambassadors for good will and peaceful change.

"This bill is a clear demonstration of solidarity with the Cuban people at a time when they need it most. Legalizing travel to Cuba is needed, now more than ever, so that engagement with Cuba can replace isolation of Cuba, as the best instrument for America to influence democratic openings there.

"The Center for International Policy congratulates Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) and his colleagues on the Senate working group on Cuba on the introduction of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act."

The Center for International Policy (www.ciponline.org), founded in 1975, is a non-profit educational and research organization promoting a U.S. foreign policy based on international cooperation, demilitarization, and respect for basic human rights.

 


Press Release: Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SUPPORT FOR NEW SENATE BILL TO END BAN ON
AMERICAN TRAVEL TO CUBA 'A MORAL IMPERATIVE'

April 30, 2002, New York, New York.   Americans For Humanitarian Trade With Cuba (AHTC) announced its support for legislation  that would  lift the ban on Americans' freedom to travel to Cuba introduced today by U.S. Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) and the equally bipartisan Senate Cuba Working Group.  Companion legislation in the House of Representatives will be introduced in the coming weeks backed by the 50 members of the House Cuba Working Group, according to Congressional sources.

AHTC Advisory Council members include:  Milton Friedman, PhD, economist renowned for his work at the University of Chicago now at the Hoover Institution;  Peter H. Coors,  Chairman, Coors Brewing Company in Colorado;  South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who initiated the assault on the travel ban as a U.S. Representative several years ago;  David Rockefeller, former U.S. Trade Representative under first President Bush Carla Anderson Hills;  former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank Paul Volcker;  Reagan National Security Adviser  Frank Carlucci;  former Nixon CIA Director and Secretary of  Defense James Schlesinger;  former Assistant Sec. of State John Whitehead;  former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Jack Sheehan;  Francis Ford Coppola;  Archer Daniels Midland's Dwayne Andreas;  Mobile Alabama Mayor Micheal Dow;  Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture Bob Odom; and former U.S. Surgeon General Julius Richmond, among many others.

"Now more than ever we must send the Cuban people a clear message of support by extending America's helping hand through travel," said AHTC Co-Chair Sam Gibbons, a former 34-year member of Congress from Tampa, who cochairs AHTC with Craig Fuller, former chief of staff to former Vice President Bush.  "It is a moral imperative for  us to finally listen to what all the human rights groups and Cuban dissidents such as Oswaldo Paya are saying:  help the Cuban people by lifting the ban on travel."

"The current crackdown, rather than eliciting an even more hardline response, should make the defects of our current approach all the more obvious," said Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco in a congressional hearing on April 16, 2003.  Despite growing Congressional support for lifting the travel ban, the Bush Administration recently announced plans to cut off all 'people-to-people' educational travel to Cuba, which accounts for about 40% of all current licensed travel to Cuba, according to reports from the top Cuba charter service providers.

"Recent events are proof positive that ratcheting-up pressure on Cuba costs Cuban lives, as do the continued obstacles to normal sales of food and medicine to the island,"  said Cuban American Silvia Wilhelm, President of the Miami-based Puentes Cubanos and an AHTC Board Member.  "All the polls show that the South Florida Cuban American community increasingly sees free travel as a way to promote the well-being of the average Cuban.

"Working with a prominent roster of American leaders and a national network of 23 state councils, AHTC will redouble its humanitarian mission to lift all restrictions on the sale of food and medicines to Cuba, including restrictions on travel to Cuba.  Such restrictions block efforts to achieve humanitarian trade and violate Americans' fundamental right to freedom of movement," said AHTC Executive Director Lissa Weinmann.


Press Release: Human Rights Watch

For Immediate Release
In Washington, José Miguel Vivanco
U.S.: Bill to Lift Cuba Travel Restrictions

(Washington, DC, April 30, 2003) — The Senate bill to lift travel restrictions to Cuba is an important step toward protecting the right of Americans to travel freely, Human Rights Watch said today.

The "Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2003," introduced today by Senators Max Baucus, Byron Dorgan, and Michael Enzi, would lift travel restrictions that have been a key component of the United States' forty-year-old policy of isolation and embargo toward Cuba.

The embargo's travel ban, which contains narrow exceptions for journalists, people with relatives in Cuba, and certain other groups, has not proved to be an effective tool for promoting human rights in Cuba.

"The Cuba travel embargo has been in place for four decades and it hasn't done a bit of good," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "Allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba would be much more helpful in encouraging reform."

President Jimmy Carter, when he visited Cuba in May 2002, spoke openly about human rights and the need for democratization.

"Visitors may often be in a position to add new perspectives to the public debate in Cuba's relatively closed society," Vivanco said.

Human rights conditions in Cuba have recently deteriorated. Over the past month and a half, the Cuban government has carried out a full-scale offensive against nonviolent dissidents, independent journalists, human rights advocates, independent librarians and others brave enough to challenge the government's monopoly on truth.

Seventy-five people were convicted of violating laws that criminalize a broad range of nonviolent statements of opinion, infringing fundamental rights of free expression. Their sentences range from 6 to 28 years of imprisonment, with an average sentence of more than 19 years.

"When it comes to promoting reform in Cuba, the United States has undermined its own influence by pursuing a policy condemned by the rest of the world," said Vivanco. "In its efforts to isolate Fidel Castro, it has only isolated itself."


Press Release: Cuban-American Groups

For Immediate Release
April 30, 2003
Miami, Florida
Contact:
Silvia Wilhelm, Puentes Cubanos
Delvis Fernandez, Cuban American Alliance

CUBAN AMERICANS SUPPORT FREEDOM TO TRAVEL
Cuban American organizations endorse Senate's bill to end travel ban to Cuba

Leading Cuban American organizations give solid endorsement to recent legislation proposed by the Senate Cuba Working Group to open travel of US citizens to Cuba. Similar bills to end funding for the travel ban have passed the House of Representatives in each of the past three congressional sessions.

"Present policy has failed. A new policy calling for engagement with the people of Cuba through the lifting of travel restrictions is welcomed by the majority of Cuban Americans", stated Alfredo Duran, Secretary of the Cuban Committee for Democracy. Recent polls of Cuban Americans show increasing support for ending all restrictions imposed on American citizens for travel to the island.

"Our work has always been to support the people of both countries, to foster engagement, to foster respect and reconciliation", stated Silvia Wilhelm of Puentes Cubanos. "Now more than ever we must build bridges of support with the Cuban people, lifting the travel restrictions will be a major step forward to accomplish such a difficult but necessary task".

"Respectful engagement, commerce and freedom to travel will best serve the interests of both nations," said Delvis Fernandez, President of the Cuban American Alliance. "Travel restrictions on Cuban American families is no way to extend American values."

Partial List of Organizations led by Cuban Americans endorsing Senate's bill to end the travel ban to Cuba: Cuban American Defense League, The Time is Now Coalition, US/Cuba Legal Forum, Cuban American Alliance, Cambio Cubano, Cuban Committee for Democracy, Fundación Amistad, The Caribbean American Children Foundation, Puentes Cubanos, Alianza Martiana, Tampa-Cuba Alliance, Asociación Martiana, Cuban American Democratic Council, The Dante Fascell Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy, Madison-Camagüey Sister City Association, West Coast Cuban American Alliance