December 09,2003

Baucus Expresses Frustration at Elimination of Cuba Travel Ban Language

Congressional Leaders Thwart Will of Congress, Remove Provisions Lifting Travel Ban

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senator Max Baucus today released a statement emphasizing hisdissatisfaction with a decision by the Congressional leadership to override the will of Congressby continuing to fund enforcement of the Cuba travel ban.

Earlier this year, both the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly to eliminate fundingthat goes toward the enforcement of the Cuba travel ban. The provision was included in the fiscalyear 2004 Treasury-Transportation Appropriations bill, but was removed by congressionalleadership this week.

Baucus, who traveled to Cuba in September, has played a leading role in pushingCongress and the Administration to reexamine America's policy toward Cuba, citing that 40years of embargo have done nothing to improve Cuba's political climate or help the Cubanpeople. Earlier this year, Baucus introduced legislation that would seek to lift the trade embargoagainst Cuba, and remove travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

Baucus today said that he remains committed to the elimination of the Cuba travel banand lifting of the Cuba embargo and will resume the fight when Congress returns in January.Full Senate floor statement follows:

"I rise today to express deep frustration with the way congressional leaders have thwarted thewill of the majority of members on Cuba.

Last month, the Senate approved an amendment to the Transportation-Treasury appropriationsbill that would suspend enforcement of the Cuba travel restrictions. We passed this amendment59-36 - a 23 vote margin. In September, the House approved the same amendment 227-188 - a39 vote margin.

Both chambers of Congress approved the same amendment to suspend enforcement of the Cubatravel ban and to allow travel by Americans to Cuba. These votes reflected the sentiments of theoverwhelming majority of Americans who support ending the utterly ineffectual travel ban.Opinion leaders, too, in newspapers all across the country, in papers big and small, applauded theSenate and House votes. Orlando, Chicago, New York, Winston-Salem, Tuscaloosa, San Diego.

Papers from every corner of the country commended Congress for its efforts and called for anend to the absurd travel ban.

Then, the Senate Foreign Relations approved, by a 13-5 margin, S.950, the “Freedom to Travelto Cuba Act of 2003, which would permanently repeal the Cuba travel ban. Senator Enzi and Iintroduced this legislation along with 31 of our colleagues, from both sides of the aisle andrepresenting every region of this country, because we felt the time had come to end this pointlessban on American liberty. As its vote demonstrates, the Senate Foreign Relations Committeeagrees.

Given these votes, and given the popular support for our efforts to end the travel ban, one wouldthink the conferees of the Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill would not be able to stripout our amendment. When the Senate and House have approved the same amendment, thereought to be nothing for conferees to reconcile.

But here we are with an omnibus bill that does not include our amendment to suspendenforcement of the Cuba travel ban. How did this happen?

It wasn’t the conferees. Thirteen of the 16 Senate conferees were supportive of our amendment.The conferees would not have stripped out the amendment.

But the congressional leadership would. And they did, before even submitting the bill to theconference committee for consideration. They pointed to a phony veto threat - not made by thePresident - to justify a blatantly political move calculated to improve their standing with a smallnumber of constituents in Florida.

This, despite a recent poll by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times that found that mostFlorida voters favor lifting the ban on travel to Cuba - by better than a two to one margin.Is this democracy in action? Is this the example we are setting for the rest of the world? Is theexample of participatory government that we hold to the Cuban dissidents as the beacon offreedom and liberty?

If this ugly episode were the only consequence of this Administration’s obsession with retainingthe failed Cuba travel ban, that would be bad enough.

But it’s not the only consequence. Far worse, the Administration’s pandering to its south Floridaallies is undermining U.S. efforts to fight terrorism.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is charged with enforcingsanctions against foreign countries, terrorist networks, international narcotics traffickers, andthose involved in proliferating weapons of mass destruction.

This is important work crucial to the security of our nation. We are in dangerous times, andOFAC is on the front lines protecting America from those who wish us ill.

But under new Administration guidelines, OFAC has diverted resources from guarding againstterrorism to tightening the sanctions against Cuba, including enforcing the Cuba travel ban.OFAC dedicates nearly a sixth of its employees to enforcing the failed sanctions against Cuba.

Think about that. The United States recently fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our troops,embassies, and citizens living abroad are exposed to terrorist threats on a daily basis. There areother countries - like Iran, Syria, and Sudan - that are known to harbor Al-Qaeda and otherterrorists, and others still that are known to be seeking to purchase or develop weapons of massdestruction.

Yet, instead of devoting every penny and every resource to fighting these dangers, nearly onesixthof OFAC employees must waste their time enforcing the Cuba travel ban and otherembargo-related matters.

In a further sign of the Administration’s misplaced priorities when it comes to Cuba, theDepartment of Homeland Security recently announced that it would begin diverting crucial andurgently needed resources away from the war on terrorism in order to enforce the travelrestrictions against ordinary Americans who want to travel to Cuba.

I am certain the American people would agree with me that this is outrageous. The question iswhat we can do about it. The answer is simple. Repeal the Cuba travel ban.

We’ve made a lot of progress this session. One third of the Senate has co-sponsored legislationto end the travel ban. Reason and momentum are on our side. Let me assure my colleagues andthe Administration that this issue is not going away. We will be back in the next session ofCongress to continue the fight, and we will fight harder than ever.