Improved US, Cuba Relations Face Roadblock
House republicans made a strong statement against US President Obama’s reconciliatory policy toward Cuba yesterday by attaching policy riders that block new travel to the island. The riders are attached to a $55.3 billion, must-pass transportation and housing bill and may interfere with emerging plans for US tourism to Cuba.
The bill and riders were drafted by US Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami who is the chair of the House subcommittee on transportation. Balart has been a long standing opponent to US reconciliatory measure towards the communist regime. The congressman issued the following statement in response to Obama’s April 14 decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, “The longsuffering Cuban people, who continue to struggle for the realization of human rights and democracy in Cuba, and the American people, living with an aggressive anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores, deserve much better from the President.”
Recently, the Obama administration has eliminated the need for US travelers to obtain a license from the Treasury Department in order to travel to Cuba. In its place, travelers only need to show that their trip fits the criteria for permitted travel such as religious or educational purposes.
Many in the cruise industry have welcomed the possibility of US tourism in Cuba. Frank J. Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines claimed that Cuba could become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, according to a March 25 CNN broadcast. The Caribbean currently makes up about 35% of Carnival Cruise Line’s passenger capacity and most of Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships dock in the region.
Cuba’s tropical beaches, unique history and proximity to the US make it a sought after destination for American tourism. The American Society of Travel Agents estimates that more than 500,000 American cruise passengers would visit Cuba in the first two years. Additionally, easing trade sanctions with the island could spark growth in US ports, particularly those in Florida.
The recent attachments introduced by Balart seek to restrict any air or sea traffic passing through property confiscated by Castro’s government, essentially forbidding any travel through air or seaports. This move is expected to stir up controversy in the Obama administration and could lead to a potential presidential veto.