While Iran has taken center stage in current foreign policy discussions, Congress and the Administration are keenly aware that Cuba is on deck. Following President Obama’s historic meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro and his announcement of intent to remove Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, members of Congress have responded by introducing bills both supporting and opposing the President’s policies, including:
- Agricultural Export Expansion Act
Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced this bipartisan bill to support and improve the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba. Cosponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the bill would allow private banks and companies to offer lines of credit for agricultural exports to Cuba. Cuba currently imports around 80% of its food, mostly from China, Brazil and the EU, which are currently able to extend credit to Cuban buyers. Current law requires up-front cash payment for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, and the Senators have argued that this bill would level the playing field with our global competitors. Current sales of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba total around $300 million per year, but experts believe improved ties between the countries could push sales over $1 billion.
- Travel Restrictions added to DOT Appropriations Bill
In the House, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) introduced a measure in the Department of Transportation appropriations bill that would effectively block airline and cruise ship travel to Cuba. As is common with appropriations legislation, the measure would bar the use of funds for specific purposes, here either to facilitate new air transportation to Cuba or to issue licenses or operating certificates for vessels docked within seven miles of Cuba. If Diaz-Balart’s provision is included as part of a transportation bill, the government would be unable to recertify any cruise line or airline that has or intends to travel to Cuba. The measure will likely face opposition in Congress from those who either support expanding trade with Cuba or those who see it as a “poison pill” that would result in a presidential veto of must-pass legislation. Several airlines including JetBlue, Delta, and United Airlines have expressed interest in adding service to Cuba, and this legislation would prevent such action.
In addition to movement at the Federal level, Cuban policy developments have also taken place on the state and local level, especially in Florida, which has the strongest ties to Cuba of any state. A recent New York Times article detailed the split between the cities of Tampa and Miami with regard to the Administration’s proposals. While there is a large amount of anti-engagement sentiment in Miami, Tampa has historically supported increased ties with Cuba and is positioning itself to benefit economically from expanded relations. The Tampa City Council recently approved of the idea to open a Cuban Consulate within the city and offered Tampa as a location where any official accord between the two countries could be signed. Tampa business leaders and politicians had supported expanded relations between the U.S. and Cuba long before the Administration’s January announcements, frequently taking trips to Cuba. Additionally, Tampa’s geographic location allows a straight trip to Havana, which would be a major advantage if the U.S. lifts the trade embargo. If the warming of relations between the two countries continues moving forward, we can expect Tampa to have a leg up on the competition with regard to doing business in Cuba.