MIAMI (CBS4) – A growing number of Cuban-Americans are concerned about two bills in Congress that would reinstate strict limits over their travel to Cuba, including how often they can visit and how much money they send family there. One of the bills would also limit new cultural and educational exchanges.
Many South Floridians are worried Congress might succeed in bringing back the Bush-era of travel only once every three years and a $1,200 annual cap on annual remittances. Also under way is an effort to restore stricter limits on the kinds of educational and cultural exchanges now permitted with the authoritarian government of Raul and Fidel Castro.
Sonia Rodriguez is among those who oppose the measures. She doesn’t want her money going to the Cuban government but fears without her help, her mother in Cuba will go hungry.
Backers of the bill said people are abusing the system and are propping up a repressive regime.
The measures highlight the split between those who fled the country decades ago and those who left more recently and maintain ties there.
Soon after taking office, President Barack Obama eased the family travel restrictions to pre-Bush administration levels. He has also issued regulations encouraging travel opportunities for religious, cultural and educational groups. Pure tourist travel is still prohibited under the U.S. trade embargo imposed on Cuba decades ago.
But two Republican Cuban-American congressmen from Miami-area districts are sponsoring measures to roll back the Obama changes, highlighting the division between those who left Cuba long ago and those who arrived more recently and still have ties to the Caribbean nation.
Last week, the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a sweeping bill targeting a Cuba travel and remittances. Republicans and Democrats on the panel backed the move pushed by Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
Rivera said the Bush limits were enacted because of abuses to the system, and that a visit once every three years was a reasonable compromise. There is currently no limit on the number of trips Cuban-Americans can make to visit family in Cuba.
The bills are likely to pass the House but face opposition in the Senate and a presidential veto threat.
Although the full House likely will approve the bill this fall, its prospects are bleak in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has pushed for a narrower measure targeting only Cuban-Americans. His measure is part of a must-pass financial spending bill, although Senate Democrats could oppose the provision on Cuba. All but certain is opposition from the Obama administration.
Diaz-Balart said too many people were taking advantage of eased travel to Cuba to act as merchandise couriers, propping up the island’s faltering economy, and in turn its government.
Travel charters for the Cuban-American community also have gained under the Obama changes, the Herald reported. In the past, people were more likely to fly out of third countries. On Wednesday, the agency ABC Charters announced an agreement with Tampa International Airport to provide charter flights to the island for Cuban-Americans.
ABC owner Tessie Aral supports unfettered travel to Cuba. She acknowledged some fellow Cuban-Americans take advantage of the system but says they’re the minority.
She showed The Associated Press petitions signed by more than 1,500 individuals who identified themselves as Cuban-Americans living in Diaz-Balart’s district – all collected in the past week. They want the representative to drop his efforts and to meet with them.
Diaz-Balart has refused to receive the petitions as his policy is not to meet with anyone who does business with “totalitarian regimes.”
Agencies that charter planes to Cuba must pay a fee to Cuba’s national tourism agency.
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