WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
16 Jun 2016 | News

GOP-Controlled Senate Panel Overwhelmingly Votes to Lift Travel Ban On Cuba and Expand Trade

Amendments would end travel ban on Cuba, fund U.S. agricultural exports

Washington, D.C.—Today, in a sign of growing Republican support for updating U.S. policy towards Cuba, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 22 to eight to ease trade restrictions that have been in place for decades. Three other provisions to ease the embargo on Cuba passed by voice vote, including one that would end the travel ban.

Senate Appropriators eliminated key elements of the failed U.S. embargo on Cuba, reinstating freedom of Americans to travel to Cuba and ending trade and shipping restrictions. This is the second consecutive year the Committee approved similar measures, marking a major milestone in Congressional support for normalizing relations with Cuba.

“The U.S. Senate has demonstrated that it is willing to pass legislation to end the embargo on Cuba, which the U.S. public supports overwhelmingly. The question now is whether or not the House of Representatives will show the same commitment to opening up trade and travel,” said Marc Hanson, Senior Associate for Cuba at WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America).

Eight Republicans joined all 14 Democrats on the committee in backing the measure to eliminate restrictions on trade with Cuba. Republicans and Democrats also joined forces to pass three additional provisions that would help American businesses expand their sales to Cuba.

The action now turns to the House of Representatives, which will see efforts to pass similar language in order for it to be signed into law.

The bipartisan Cuba Working Group in the House submitted similar provisions earlier in the year. While these provisions were not included in the current draft, amendments are expected be introduced to the Financial Services appropriations bill next week when it comes to the floor.

As in the Senate, there has been growing interest in the House in ending the embargo, among Republicans as well as Democrats. There are currently 37 GOP Members of the House of Representatives that have shown their support for ending aspects of the embargo on Cuba by cosponsoring or voting for legislation in the 114th Congress.

Progress on Cuba legislation comes as U.S. travel to Cuba has boomed, and as several U.S. companies have signed commercial deals with Cuba.

The Senate vote is also aligned with public opinion surveys, showing that the vast majority of Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba. A CBS News poll found that 81 percent of the American people support ending the travel ban (including 71 percent of Republicans), and according to the Pew Research Center, conservative Republicans are the fastest-growing group of Americans who support opening U.S. trade with Cuba.

Background on the Amendments:

Boozman-Tester Amendment: Would eliminate a key barrier to U.S. competitiveness in Cuba by allowing the use of private credit for the sale of U.S. agricultural commodities to Cuba. It would also repeal a current requirement that any vessel that has traveled to Cuba cannot load or unload freight in the U.S. within 180 days without a license. Current requirements needlessly choke trade, and this would eliminate a logistical disadvantage for agricultural producers, ports, and shipping companies. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 22 to eight.

Leahy-Moran Amendment: Would lift the ban on travel to Cuba for one year by prohibiting the use of funds to restrict U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba. This would not eliminate the authority of the President to restrict travel for national security purposes. The amendment was adopted by a voice vote.


Geoff Ramsey
Research and Communications Associate, WOLA
+1 (202) 797-2171
[email protected]