And in Washington...
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including U.S. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has introduced legislation to lift all remaining travel restrictions that keep Americans from freely visiting Cuba.
“We tried it for 50 years. We said if we closed the door on Cuba, Cuba would change," Durbin said. "We did not succeed in that policy. It’s time for a new policy."
Durbin said he doesn't expect Cuba to change immediately with freer travel, but he said more openness is bound to create change.
“We don’t have to set out to change Cuba as our No. 1 reason, but I think we’re going to see dramatic change in Cuba if there is more travel, exchange and business between our two countries,” said Durbin.
Since 2009, only Cuban-Americans have been able to travel unrestricted to the island. Earlier this month, the White House eased travel restrictions somewhat, following President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., began his efforts to lift the travel ban about 15 years ago. In the news conference announcing the bill’s introduction, he anticipated arguments from likely opponents. “Some will say that we ought to receive something in exchange for this… we all need to remember that this is a sanction or prohibition on Americans, not Cubans.”
Flake says it is not reasonable to expect the Cuban government to react with a concession when the lifting of the travel ban would not be a concession on the part of the United States.
“We’re simply saying that Americans should be allowed to have the right to travel wherever they would like to unless there’s a compelling national security reason,” said Flake.
One of the most outspoken critics of the president’s plan to normalize relations with Cuba is U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the Senate leadership team. Blunt is opposed to normalization as long as the “Castro brothers (Raul and Fidel) remain in power.”
While the White House can ease trade and travel restrictions, it will take an act of Congress to do away with those restrictions permanently.
The bill is the first piece of legislation related to Cuba, since the president’s announcement in December. And while it has bipartisan support and co-sponsors, it is not known whether the new majority Republican leadership in the Senate will allow the measure to come to a vote.