United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Monday, November 16, 2009

Upcoming Congressional Hearing on Lifting the Travel Ban - Howard Berman's Show

An interesting week lies ahead. The congressional hearing is set. But will this be a fair hearing about allowing Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba? There is concern that a circus atmosphere may evolve as there are two separate and distinct issues being mixed together with the danger that the ultimate outcome will be no substantive result. We will hear that which we know already – Cuba has human rights problems and political prisoners. So does China and about a dozen other countries we have normal travel and relations with. Why do we treat Cuba differently and how successful have our policies been in improving human rights there? If anything, our political and economic isolation of Cuba lends itself to the very conditions we complain about regarding our island neighbor. We will hear about it again on Thursday.

Moreover, what does all of this have to do with the ongoing 50 year violation on every American’s constitutional freedom to travel wherever they choose to go and spend the money they need to do so? How is sacrificing our fundamental right of what it means to be an American justify our contorted foreign policy with Cuba? Why are we having a hearing on a travel issue and the travel industry is being excluded from testifying at this hearing? Orbitz has a petition of over 100,000 Americans who want to travel now to Cuba but cannot do so freely.

Why isn’t the committee having a regular Cuban American citizen who travels to Cuba to visit their family testify how the travel ban prevents economic competition and promotes economic gouging with high costs such as $580.00 roundtrip airfare w/taxes for a 45 minute flight this December holiday season from Miami to Havana; $2 per pound excess weight charges here over 44 pounds; not to mention the Cuban side of this market distortion. This is in part the atmosphere of what our travel ban and the lack of normal relations contributes and creates.

When discussing human rights, why isn’t the Congress asking the Obama Administration about negotiations to free the political prisoners in Cuba, the Cuban five here in the U.S., extradition of American fugitives and other humanitarian related issues? When will these negotiations begin in earnest with the Cuban government? What are we waiting for? I am sure not one of those prisoners or their families want their loved ones to languish one more day incarcerated. When will our humanity trump the inane politics of our policies? Doesn’t President Obama see the foreign policy plum that is staring at him at eye level, ready for the picking? And doesn’t he appreciate he does not need embargo extremists to win the state of Florida in his re-election bid? (psst..hey Rahm [Emanuel] - they didn't vote for him last November. They are not going to vote for him in 2012 either...)

Will we have a hearing where the taint of political campaign money casts a pall on the objectivity of the proceeding itself? Committee Chairman Howard Berman, who I respect, has been touched by the embargo extremists to the tune of $10,000 in campaign contributions over the last two election cycles. Will Chairman Berman stand for transparency of his Committee and require every member to disclose at the hearing:

1) Whether they have ever traveled to Cuba and when was the last time they visited Cuba?
2) Do any members of the committee have any family or employment connections to either Fidel Castro or Fulgencio Batista?
3) Whether they receive any and how much money, in campaign contributions, from Political Action Committees (PACs) that support travel restrictions and the embargo or conversely, the lifting of travel restrictions and the end of the embargo?

The public deserves to know who is representing them.

Finally, will Chairman Berman markup HR. 874 and get the Delahunt-Flake bill reported to the House floor for debate and a vote? Will Speaker Pelosi allow the measure to proceed? In the end that is what only matters to lift the travel ban at this stage of the legislative process. The rest is really all show. Stay tuned - TM