Baucus Works to End to Cuba Travel Ban
Hundreds of Americans Gather to Participate in “Cuba Action Day”
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Hundreds of Americans from all over the country gathered today toparticipate in “Cuba Action Day,” a forum taking place in Washington, D.C., and all across thenation calling for an end to the Cuba travel ban.
U.S. Senator Max Baucus has been a leading advocate of easing trade and travelrestrictions to the island nation. Earlier this week, Baucus joined Senators Enzi and Dorgan tointroduce the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (S.894), a bipartisan bill to repeal the travel ban toCuba. Baucus prepared the following remarks for “Cuba Action Day”:Speech of Senator Max Baucus
“Planning Our Own Transition”Cuba Action Day
INTRODUCTIONWelcome to all of you. I know that many of you have traveled from far away to be here.I want also to thank the panelists here today. You each have important perspectives to share.The perspective I want to share with you today is how we can plan a transition: Atransition away from the Administration’s failed policies.
THE ADMINISTRATION’S “TRANSITION PLAN”I’m sure you recall, nearly one year ago, President Bush endorsed a lofty plan to “hastenCuba’s transition” devised by a blue ribbon Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.The commission laid plans to cut off most U.S. travel to the island, ramp up U.S.broadcasts to the island via taxpayer-funded military plane, and increase aid that most dissidentsin Cuba don’t even want.
Even some of Castro’s staunchest internal critics cast a skeptical eye. Oswaldo Paya, aleading Cuban dissident, dismissed the plan. “It is not appropriate or acceptable for any forceoutside Cuba to try to design the Cuban transition process,” he insisted.
This is much the same message that Paya gave me when I visited his home nearly a yearand a half ago.
Vladimiro Roca, a former political prisoner living in Cuba, also expressed doubts. “I’m apractical person,” he said. “If in more than forty year [the embargo] hasn’t brought results, itwon’t bring them now.”
So, what went wrong with the President’s plan to “hasten the Cuban transition?” MaybeMiriam Leiva— whose husband was rounded up in a dissident crackdown two years ago—explained it when she asked:
“[Did] the Bush administration ask for the opinion of internal dissidents when theCommission for Assistance to a Free Cuba crafted its report? No. Will the measures hurtthe Castro regime? No. Instead, the Cuban people will suffer from the effects of themeasures, and more political dissidents could be sent to prison.”
OUR OWN TRANSITIONThe Administration’s transition plan for Cuba is nothing more than the usual pandering toa strident minority. So it is time to plan our own transition, away from the failed policies of thepast. In contrast, our transition will be cost-effective common sense.First, we should engage in good old-fashioned citizen diplomacy, rather than spendingtens of millions of taxpayer dollars to broadcast a message to the Cuban people that all of youhere could deliver for free.
Second, we must stop ignoring U.S. political and economic interests on the island and inthe hemisphere.
Finally, we must lead by example. We cannot credibly urge freedom for others if wedon’t even respect our own citizens’ most fundamental right to travel wherever they want.
CITIZEN DIPLOMACYDuring the twilight of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, it was President Reagan whotold us that "civilized people everywhere have a stake in keeping contacts, communication, andcreativity as broad, deep, and free as possible." He insisted that, "The way governments can bestpromote contacts among people is by not standing in the way."
I couldn’t agree more. So let us send our teachers and students, our farmers andpharmacists, our architects and engineers, all of them citizen diplomats.Let us not be the ones to bar the Cuban people from participating in the globalcommunity. Let the Cuban government just try to defend against an onslaught of Americanvalues and goodwill.
CUBAN AMERICAN FAMILY TRAVELBut that is not enough. We should also send the hundreds of thousands of CubanAmericans who want to take a message of hope and solidarity to their families on the island.No one can take that message to the Cuban people now, because the Administration hasbarred Cuban Americans from visiting their loved ones more than once every three years. Suchinhumane restrictions on family travel are tearing the Cuban family apart.
Sergeant Carlos Lazo, who is here today, knows what I am talking about all too well.Sergeant Lazo served this nation honorably on a one-year deployment in Iraq this last year.But when he tried to use his two-week military leave to visit his two sons in Cuba, theU.S. government turned him away just days before the new restrictions took effect. Surely theseare not the family values for which America stands.
And far from bringing down the Castro regime, as the Administration promised, suchisolationist policies merely reinforce Castro’s monopoly on information on the island.
PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE AND ACADEMIC EXCHANGESThe Cuban people are eager to meet Americans. They love to discuss baseball, debatepolitics, and engage in academic or professional exchanges with us. These are the very civilsociety contacts that the Cuban people desperately need, yet these are precisely the contacts thatthe U.S. government has undermined by cutting off people-to-people and academic exchanges.That’s just dead wrong.
PROTECTING U.S. INTERESTSThe trouble is, when we cut off our contacts with a country just ninety miles from ourshores, we are not only hurting the Cuban people; we are harming our own interests. When werelinquish our sphere of influence in Cuba, we invite other countries to make their owninvestments in our absence.
The second part of our transition on Cuba would remove this self-imposed handicap andfinally take account of U.S. political and economic interests on the island and in the hemisphere.While America sits on the sidelines, China is launching a nearly $2 billion dollarinvestment in Cuban nickel production. Cuba sits on the third largest nickel deposit in the world.The Chinese have also given generous credits and donations to Cuba, including helpingto upgrade tourist enclaves, making good on a Chinese pledge to turn Cuba into China’s premiertourism destination.
While America sits on the sidelines, Spain, Brazil, Canada—and yes, China—have allbeen busy drilling for oil off the coast of Cuba. Just this past winter, Castro announced that onefind would produce 100 million barrels of oil.
It’s a modest discovery, but it’s another significant sign that wishful thinking andunilateral isolation have not bankrupted Castro’s coffers. In the meantime, Venezuela’s HugoChavez continues to sell cut-rate oil to Cuba in exchange for medical assistance.The day that change does come to Cuba—and it will come—China, Venezuela, Brazil,Spain, and Canada are the nations that will help shape the Cuban economy, civil society, andpolitical evolution. Are we content to let China become Castro’s next patron?I say no. Our transition plan must actively and honestly protect U.S. interests.
AGRICULTURAL TRADEI am a realist. I understand that this is an incremental process. So we should start whereit makes most sense. Until recently, there was one area where we seemed to have our Cubapolicy right – agricultural exports.
Since Congress first authorized one-way, cash-only sales of agricultural products to Cubain 2000, the island went from being our 226th agricultural export market – dead last – to our 25thlargest agricultural export market in 2004. Last year alone, Cuba was worth nearly $400 millionto U.S. exporters.
But here, too, the Administration decided to interfere to cater to the anti-Cuba zealots.Seeing how U.S. ag sales to Cuba were growing, the Treasury Department issued a new rule thatwould essentially cut off access to the Cuban market by restricting the terms of payment.This new rule endangers over $200 million in open contracts negotiated months ago—including sales of Montana wheat and beans. Now these sales will have to be re-negotiated orabandoned.
The bureaucrats at Treasury have no right to close off what Congress purposefullyopened. With our farmers and ranchers facing mounting pressure from a shrinking ag tradesurplus and the budget axe, this is no time to be closing off promising new markets.Months ago, I warned against any new restrictions on ag trade to Cuba. I promised toblock consideration of significant Treasury nominees that come before the Senate until I feel surethat ag sales to Cuba can continue as they have for the past several years. I intend to keep thatpromise.
FREEDOM TO TRAVEL TO CUBA ACTFinally, the keystone of our transition plan must be our willingness to lead by example.Two days ago, Senators Enzi, Dorgan and I introduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act(S.894), a bipartisan bill to repeal the travel ban to Cuba. We did this because we believe allAmericans have a fundamental right to travel wherever we want.
Last Congress, our bill was successfully voted out of the Foreign Relations Committee.And the full Senate voted by a clear majority to de-fund enforcement of the travel ban.The momentum is ours, and everyone knows it.
CONCLUSIONLet me leave you with an observation from two people who know what it means to strugglefor freedom. Just after the demoralizing dissident crackdown in 2003, two leading Cuban humanrights activists, Elizardo Sanchez and Vladimiro Roca, got to the very heart of what freedommeans, even in America. This is what they had to say:
“Just as we insist on the right of Cubans to travel, to leave and return to our country freely,a right now denied us, so too do we support the right of Americans to travel freely, includingtravel to Cuba.”
Let’s all keep their words in mind as we work to achieve greater freedom of travel for bothourselves and for the Cuban people.
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