House committee approves lifting Cuba travel ban

The House Agriculture Committee last week passed the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, a bill that would end a ban on travel to Cuba and ease restrictions on agricultural exports to the island, CQ.com reports: “The bill (HR 4645), approved 25-20 by the Agriculture Committee on June 30, would prohibit the president from regulating travel to Cuba.…’This legislation is the right policy at the right time,’ said Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), who sponsored the measure. ‘By facilitating agriculture trade and travel in Cuba, we can show the Cuban people the great benefits of democracy.’”

The passage of this bill has the potential to reopen extensive academic exchange travel between the U.S. and Cuba. As NAFSA, which has been a leading advocate of overturning the travel ban, explains, while congressional action is required to lift the ban on tourist travel to Cuba, the President actually has authority to change the regulations on academic travel. In 2004, the Bush Administration exercised this authority and put in place regulations that “all but stopped educational and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba,” NAFSA says; this action dropped the number of Americans studying in Cuba from 2,100 in 2003-04 to approximately 250 in 2007-08. HR 4645 not only lifts the ban on all travel to Cuba (tourist, academic, and otherwise), but also prohibits the President from changing these regulations, as in 2004.

Despite the bill’s passage, some members of the committee, both Democrats and Republicans, expressed reservations about lifting the travel ban, CQ noted:

“This committee should not be seeking to unilaterally overturn standing U.S. foreign policy that would only enrich dictators,” said the committee’s ranking Republican, Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma.

Democrat Frank Kratovil Jr. of Maryland also expressed frustration, saying he backed the trade features but opposed the travel provision. “We are faced with a very difficult decision, and it’s not one that I’m happy to be making,” said Kratovil, who voted in favor of the bill.

 

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