Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 Congressional Record

Mr. LEAHY. Today I am introducing, along with 45 Democratic and Republican cosponsors, the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019.  Identical legislation is being introduced today by Representatives Jim McGovern and Tom Emmer in the House.

We are introducing this bill for one reason: so Americans can travel to Cuba in the same way that they can travel to every other country in the world except North Korea, to which President Trump banned travel by executive order.  Based on my conversations with other Senators, I am confident that if we were afforded the opportunity to vote on this bill, more than 60 Senators would support it.

It is indefensible that the federal government restricts American citizens and legal residents from traveling to a tiny country 90 miles away that poses no threat to us.  At a time when U.S. airlines are flying to Cuba, does anyone here honestly think that preventing Americans from traveling there is an appropriate role of the federal government?  Why only Cuba?  Why not Venezuela?  Or Russia?  Or Iran, or anywhere else?  It is a vindictive, discriminatory, self-defeating vestige of a time long passed.

This bill would end these Cold War restrictions on the freedom of Americans to travel.  It would not do away with the embargo. 

Americans overwhelmingly favor travel to Cuba.  The last poll I saw, a CBS poll, found that 81 percent of Americans support expanding travel to Cuba.  Officials in the White House, however, have a different agenda, driven by purely domestic political calculations.  They have not only rolled back steps taken by the previous administration to encourage engagement with Cuba, they have gone further by imposing even more onerous restrictions on the right of Americans to travel.  As a result, the number of Americans traveling to Cuba this year is projected to plummet by half, due to the policies of their own government.  And the thousands of private Cuban entrepreneurs, the taxi drivers, the Airbnb renters, restaurants, and shops that depend on American customers are struggling to survive.  It is a shortsighted, anachronistic policy that is beneath our democracy.

I and others, including Republicans, have traveled to Cuba many times over the past 20 years, met with Cuban officials, with Cubans who have been persecuted for opposing the government, and with many others.  Every one of us wants to see an end to political repression in Cuba.  The arrests and mistreatment of dissidents by the Cuban government should be condemned, just as we should condemn such abuses by other governments including some, like Egypt and Turkey, whose leaders have been welcomed at the White House and the State Department.  Americans can travel freely to Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, but not to Cuba.

The issue is how best to support the people of Cuba who struggle to make ends meet, and who want to live in a country where freedom of expression and association are protected.  Anyone who thinks that more economic pressure, or ultimatums, will force the Cuban authorities to stop arresting political dissidents and embrace democracy have learned nothing from history.  For more than half a century we tried a policy of unilateral sanctions and isolation, and it achieved neither of those goals.  Instead, it is the Cuban people who were hurt the most.  And it provided an opening in this hemisphere for Russia, China, and our other competitors. 

Change is coming to Cuba, and we can help support that process.  Or we can sit on the sidelines and falsely claim to be helping the Cuban people, while pursuing a failed policy of punitive sanctions.  The bipartisan bill I will introduce on Monday is about the right of Americans, not Cubans, to travel.  Every member of Congress, especially those who have been to Cuba, should oppose restrictions on American citizens that have no place in the law books of a free society.

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Click here to view the text of the Freedom For Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019.

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