Today we learn that Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake has put together a little junket of his own and so far, six Democrats and four Republicans have signed up for a trip to Cuba courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer via the House Foreign Relations Committee. Other than the Flake, the names of his fellow travelers are not revealed.
After years of setbacks, embargo opponents see glimmer of hope
By Pablo Bachelet, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON - The Democrats' capture of Congress and Cuban leader Fidel Castro's illness have dramatically altered the battle lines over Cuba policy and given new hope to opponents of U.S. sanctions.
"There's a re-energizing of the base of people who want to work to change this policy," said Mavis Anderson of Butterfield, Minn., the head of the Cuba program for the Latin America Working Group, a left-leaning advocacy organization based in Washington. "Outside of Congress, certainly people are excited that there may be some new openings. Inside the Congress, I think that will come."
"If you're a hard-liner on policy toward Cuba, things are not looking very good for you," said Tomas Bilbao, the executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a centrist nonpartisan organization in Miami and Washington that promotes new ideas on Cuba policy.
Congressional interest in Cuba is growing as the island continues to chart its course in the post-Fidel Castro era.
Six Democrats and four Republicans have signed up for a trip to Havana organized by the House International Relations Committee. The visit, which begins Friday, is an initiative of Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, a vocal supporter of more U.S. engagement with Cuba.
"People are talking about Cuba again," said Sarah Stephens, the director of the Freedom to Travel Campaign, an organization that seeks to overturn the travel ban against U.S. citizens. She said the group had confirmed meetings with Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, and that it might meet with Cuba's interim leader, Raul Castro.
Few observers expect Congress to end the trade embargo on Cuba anytime soon, a decision that ultimately belongs to the legislative branch after the 1996 Helms-Burton Act said Cuba must initiate a democratic path as a condition for lifting sanctions.
But opponents are expected to challenge key portions of the Cuba policy, including funding levels for the South Florida-based Radio and TV Marti and the travel ban for most U.S. citizens. Observers say the 2004 restrictions on travel by Cuban-American citizens to the island - who now can go only once every three years instead of annually - are especially vulnerable.
Several Democrats who are skeptical of Bush's Cuba policies will chair committees that will give them a platform on Cuba matters, including New York Rep. Charles Rangel on the Ways and Means Committee, Michigan Rep. John Conyers on the House Judiciary Committee and Wisconsin Rep. David Obey on the House Appropriations Committee.
In the Senate, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden is expected to head the Foreign Relations Committee and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who once held up Treasury Department nominations to protest restrictions on U.S. trade with Cuba, probably will chair the Finance Committee.
Who are these sources cited in the article?
The Cuba Study Group is an anti-Castro group. Tomas Bilbao, Executive Director, formerly served as director of operations for Mel Florida Republican Mel Martinez’ successful senate campaign.
Sarah Stephens is the director of the Freedom to Travel Campaign which is a project of the leftwing Center for International Policy. CIP is a “progressive organization” which according to its website is “Promoting a foreign policy based on cooperation, demilitarization and respect for human rights.”
It’s interesting to note that under Ms. Stephens' bio, the campaign is also referred to as the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Campaign.” The McClatchey article omitted that tid-bit.
The Center for International Policy's Cuba program is headed by Wayne Smith. During his twenty-five years with the State Department (1957-82), he served as executive secretary of President Kennedy's Latin American Task Force and chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
The Latin American Working Group appear to be even more left wing than the "Cuba Travelers."
The Latin America Working Group is one of the nation's longest standing coalitions dedicated to foreign policy. The Latin America Working Group and its sister organization, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, carry out the coalition's mission to encourage US policies towards Latin America that promote human rights, justice, peace and sustainable development. As a coalition, LAWG represents the interests of over 60 major religious, humanitarian, grassroots and policy organizations to decision makers in Washington. We are a trusted voice in Congress, and provide reliable guidance to policymakers who want their decisions to be grounded in human rights.
Here's a sample from their website:
The Congress caved in to President Bush’s unconscionable demand for the right to torture. The law on military commissions, passed at the end of September, allows the President to interpret Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention on the definition of torture and suspends the rights of non-U.S. citizens to habeas corpus – the right to challenge the legality of their detention. But we can’t accept this.