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A New York Times story on November 13 by Christopher Marquis is quite disheartening for those of us who still want to believe we live in a democracy rather than an oligarchy. The unconstitutional Cuba travel restrictions were first enacted into law in 2000 by Senator Trent Lott (Senate majority leader) and Congressmen Tom Delay (then majority whip) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R., Miami). In a stacked “conference committee” on the approved bills allowing sales of medicine and nutritional food to Cuba, they added a provision codifying the travel restrictions, which had nothing to do with the medicine-food bills and had not been debated or voted on.
At the time Congressman Mark Sanford (R., SC) said his leadership had “behaved shamefully” and Senator Max Baucus (D., MT) called the maneuver “a travesty of our democracy.”
Every year since then the “party leaders” have refused to allow the proposed bills repealing the restrictions (supported by substantial majorities) to come to the floor, or be debated or voted on. Meanwhile the Bush Administration’s yearly requests for enforcement money for the restrictions have been turned down each year by 55-60% majorities in both chambers.
The restrictions (before 2000 administrative regs only) have not been enforced since the Soviet Union dissolved and our Defense Department in 1993 certified Cuba constitutes no security risk.
Now for the first time in ten years, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is starting to fine and prosecute unlicensed Cuba travelers (there were an estimated 100,000 in 2002).
This despite the fact that this fall both House and Senate by substantial majorities passed an amendment to the Transportation Budget to refuse the requested enforcement money for the restrictions.
The Marquis article indicates the party leaders have now quietly in conference thrown this amendment out, even though there could be no legal conference committee negotiation or jurisdiction because the passed bills are in identical language. The article says the leaders’ purpose is to save Mr. Bush the embarrassment of a veto, which might make him appear to pander to Florida Cuban-Americans.
But the pandering is not to Cuban-American voters (9% of Florida’s registered voters). Recent polls over the past two years (which Mr. Bush is surely aware of) show 70% of Florida’s Cuban-Americans want the restrictions repealed. Rather Mr. Bush is pandering to wealthy, reactionary Cuba “hard-liners” who fund his national campaigns, most of whom are not Cuban-Americans or from Florida, although some are.
Once again a very few powerful men have overruled the clearly expressed will of our Congress. Why do our so-called representatives allow this to happen? How can we accuse Cuba of being undemocratic? Are we a democracy or an oligarchy? Only if we face reality can we change it.
TOM CRUMPACKER is with the Miami Coalition to End the US Embargo of Cuba. He can be reached at: Crump8@aol.com