President Bush and Republican leaders this week subverted bipartisan support in Congress for relaxing the 40-year-old travel restrictions on Cuba. Unlike the strong majority votes in the House and Senate this fall to ease the travel ban, there was no public debate, no open meeting, no vote before the legislation was stripped. Has the administration's Cuba policy really sunk to this, to the point where the travel ban can survive only through undemocratic means?
Fidel Castro should appreciate this perversion of democracy. The House, which has voted repeatedly to relax the embargo on Cuba, voted again in September (227-188) to ease the travel ban. The Senate followed suit (59-36) in October.
The votes were a recognition of how flawed the Cold War policy has become. They also were a recognition of U.S. citizens' right to travel freely across the globe.
But legislation to ease the ban was stripped from an appropriations bill late Wednesday night, after the president threatened to veto the measure and senior congressional Republicans caved.
Said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.: "There is something out of whack with how the Cuba language was removed." One observer called it "a very disappointing and undemocratic maneuver."
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., complained: "For a few individuals in backroom negotiations to override the will of a majority of Congress sets a dangerous, undemocratic precedent."
Congressional leaders have put aside the majority before, but there is something about force-feeding Americans on the embargo that narrows the gap between our government and Castro's.
President Bush, always looking for a way to appease the most fervently anti-Castro element of Florida's Cuban-American community, says he opposes any easing of the travel ban to Cuba because he says any dollars spent there will prop up Castro. So we can ship Cuba frozen chicken but not boatloads of tourists. This doesn't make sense. Ties between our peoples are either legitimate or not. That our leaders went behind our backs to cut this deal says all that needs saying about our Cuba policy.