Washington, D.C.—On the eve of the first anniversary of the historic announcement that the United States and Cuba would restore diplomatic relations, twelve members of the House of Representatives are reaching across the aisle to push for greater U.S. engagement with Cuba by forming the bi-partisan Cuba Working Group.
Increasingly, the American people are indicating their desire for a new, more pragmatic approach to Cuba. More people are traveling from the U.S. to Cuba, more businesses are looking for opportunity on the island, and more sectors are eager for trade. The bi-partisan Cuba Working Group will promote a U.S.-Cuba policy that reflects the interests of the American people in engagement with Cuba.
The letter concludes, “Our goal is to raise the level of understanding inside of Congress for the need to build a new policy framework for U.S.-Cuban relations."
The bi-partisan Cuba Working Group steering committee members are: Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Mark Sanford (R-SC), and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY).
Over the past year, both the United States and Cuban governments have made significant progress towards normalizing relations, including opening embassies in each country and deepening cooperation in the realms of civil aviation, law enforcement cooperation, direct mail and environmental conservancy. But Congress needs to act to remove the travel and trade restrictions still held in place by the embargo.
“The establishment of a bi-partisan Cuba working group in this Congress is a game-changer,” said Marc Hanson, Senior Associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “The House Cuba working group will be instrumental in translating the overwhelming public support for ending the embargo on Cuba into legislative initiatives that can pass in Congress.”
Members of the Cuba Working Group are supporters of one or more key pieces of legislation introduced in 2015, with Republicans as the lead sponsors. Taken together, these bills repeal economic and travel restrictions and would effectively eliminate the U.S. embargo on Cuba:
- The Cuba Trade Act of 2015 would allow U.S. businesses in the private sector to trade with Cuba without restrictions;
- The Cuba Digital and Telecommunications Advancement Act (Cuba DATA Act) would allow U.S. telecommunications and internet companies to provide services to the island;
- The Cuba Agriculture Exports Act would allow for U.S. investment in privately owned Cuban agriculture businesses;
- The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 would allow all U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.
Senate committees have passed significant legislation to lift the travel ban on Cuba and widen trade with bi-partisan support. The House of Representatives has been more reticent to move U.S. policy forward, making this Cuba working group even more important.
Increasing trade, travel and investment in Cuba will not only open new markets and create jobs in both countries, but promote human rights and better hemispheric relations. Public opinion polls over the past year have shown an increasing support to end the Cuban trade embargo and change course on U.S.-Cuba relations. The most recent Pew poll showed 73% of the American people, including 59% of Republicans favor ending the trade embargo.
The bi-partisan Congressional Working Group will now take leadership to match the growing public support for a new U.S. policy towards Cuba.