By Gabriel Molina:
THE U.S. Chamber of Commerce has surprised congress members by warning that it proposes to "monitor votes" on the bipartisan bill aiming to reestablish the right for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba and sell food to the island in a more normal way.
The tone of letters expressing support for a relaxation of the measures against Cuba never implied a virtual threat like it does now.
Bruce Josten, lobbying chief for the Chamber of Commerce, said that they will watch the count closely if the bill – passed on June 30 by the Agriculture Committee – gets to the floor.
The unusual warning came after an exposé by the Federal Elections Commission over vote-buying by the U.S. Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee (PAC), which prompts the Miami ultra-right Cuban-American lobby, which has directed more than $73,000 in the first four months of 2010 to block approval of the bill.
The PAC "donated" around $11 million to close to 400 candidates and legislators between 2004 and 2008. According to a statement from the Public Campaign non-party group, 53 Democratic legislators received more than $16,000 per head and at least 18 of them changed their position.
Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart and Democratic Senator Robert Menéndez have benefited the most.
A survey taken in 2008 by World Public Opinion concluded that 70% of U.S. citizens are in favor of travel to Cuba. Among Cuban Americans, 55% are against the so-called embargo.
For example, Congressman Mike McIntyre, Democrat, North Carolina, said that he had spoken with Miami Republicans Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart about their family’s experience in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and he changed his vote "because of the horrors that they suffered." It is not difficult to realize that that experience is only one of support for the Batista dictatorship, given that Rafael J. Díaz-Balart, founder of the dynasty and the grandfather of Lincoln and Mario, was the legal adviser of the United Fruit Company in Banes – likewise the birthplace of Fulgencio Batista. He was government minister from 1952 to 1958. His son Rafael, father of the congressmen, was deputy minister.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat for Weston, has received $75,700 from the Committee; Kendrick Meek, Miami Democrat, is at eighth place on the list. Montana Republican Denny Rehberg changed from being an enthusiastic opponent of the blockade to voting in favor of the prohibitions, after receiving $10,500 from the PAC.
As majority leader, in 2004 legislator Tom DeLay prevented the restoration of U.S. citizens’ right to travel to Cuba, which had been passed with a wide majority in both Houses via a bipartisan initiative. DeLay made the bill disappear in complicity with the Díaz-Balarts.
The Cuban travel ban was established close to half a century ago, in January 1961, by Dwight Eisenhower. At the end of his term, President William Clinton eased travel to Cuba in order to win influence on the island. But President George W. Bush prohibited it again, in order to thank ultra-right Cuban Americans whose vote fraud in Florida made it possible to strip Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, of the presidency.
Bill HR 4645 is sponsored by 62 congress members, led by Democrat Collin Peterson, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, and Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas, and is backed by more than 140 business, social, economic, political and religious organizations.
In addition to the Chamber of Commerce and the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), which groups together more than 300 important U.S. companies, these include USA Engage and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which also sent letters of support to legislators. As did the Council of Churches (Protestants) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and the American Farm Bureau Federation; the Fund for Reconciliation and Development and the National Corn Growers Association.
General James Hill, ex-commander in chief of the Southern Command; General Barry McCaffrey, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; Colin Powell, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and nine more former high level members of that country’s Armed Forces have acknowledged that the current policy of isolating Cuba has failed. José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, expressed the same sentiment in a Congress hearing. All those players agree that the initiative is not doing away with the embargo (blockade), but is of high interest to the United States.
Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, cited a study undertaken last March by Texas A&M University, which revealed that reducing restrictions on exports to Cuba could start a boom, because it would lead to sales worth $365 million, 6,000 new jobs and an economic impact amounting to $1.1 billion for the country. But Congress is still being subjected to the pressure of bribes distributed by the Miami Mafia with government funds.
Steve Yoder, chair of the NGFA’s Joint Trade Policy A-Team and of the U.S. Grains Council, affirms that the embargo is affecting ranchers and farmers. In the 2008-09 growing season, Cuba was Washington’s tenth-largest corn customer. In order to retain this market Yoder admits that they need to eliminate payments in advance and the requirement to use banks in third countries, provisions that the H.R. 4645 bill would suppress, in addition to the quotas that generally accompany those permits. It also established that the permits will have the same payment requirements as U.S. exports to other countries. So Cuba would not have to pay in advance and in cash before a ship leaves a U.S. port with merchandise for the island.
The bill could be debated in the House after August 8 and it has been said that it needs 13 votes more than those committed to date. In the Senate, Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Mike Enzi were confident that a similar bill to that of the House will be passed. They are confirming that they have the 62 votes needed. But Cuban-American Robert Menéndez, chair of the Senate Democrats, has threatened a filibuster in order to bring the session to a close without a vote. The battle will continue to be a difficult one.
Havana - July 9, 2010