Conservative Mormon Congressman opposes Cuba travel ban
- Politics makes strange bedfellows. The cause of progressives to lift the
travel ban on Cuba has been taken up by a conservative Mormon Republican,
Congressman Jeff Flake. As an American citizen, I cannot lawfully travel
to Cuba, but it is not because of any regulation by the Cuban government,
rather a federal law of the government of the USA requires any American
travelling to Cuba to have the permission of the State Department to go
on pain of imprisonment for up to ten years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Mr. Flake, doubtless for reasons different than mine, wants the travel ban
lifted and is leading the fight in Congress to reverse it. Naturally if
the Cuban government finds it necessary to restrict visitation by Americans
in the wake of this, that is their right as a sovereign country.
The town of Snowflake, in northeastern Arizona, is the town from which
Jeff Flake originates, and he is indeed a descendant of one of the two
Mormon founders, one had been Mr. Snow, the other Mr. Flake. Some find
this story too riddiculous to believe, but it is true. The following article
appeared on page A8 of the Thursday May 15, 2003 edition of The Arizona
Republic and is credited to Billy House of Republic Washington Bureau.
FLAKE TARGETS CUBA TRAVEL BAN
Arizona Republican's Bill Would Abolish Cold War Policy
Washington--Representative Jeff Flake said Wednesday that he is taking a
more direct legislative strategy to ending a 42-year ban on Americans
traveling to Cuba amid the recent crackdown there on dissidents.
Previously, Flake and congressional allies focused on undoing the travel
ban through amendments to a spending bill that, technically, only eliminated
funding for the ban's enforcement.
But the Arizona Republican announced at a news conference the introduction
of a new stand-alone bill in the House to do away with the U.S.' Cold War
policy toward Cuba that he believes has been "a total failure" for more
than four decades.
Senator Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, has introduced a companion bill in
Flake's new bill, the Export Freedom to Cuba Act, comes as the Bush
administration continues to oppose any legislation that lifts economic
and travel sanctions against Cuba.
It also comes as the administration is expressing anger over a recent wave
of repression in Cuba, including the sentencing of 75 priminent dissidents to
long prison terms and the execution of three men who hijacked a ferry in a
failed bid to reach the United States.
But Flake said he hopes the White House will come to realize, in light of the
latest crackdowns on Cuban dissidents, that a different approach is needed.
He said the real "get-tough policy" toward President Fidel Castro's
government would be to let Americans travel there.
"The last thing that Fidel Castro wants is for Americans to freely travel to
Cuba," Flake said.
"By flooding the island with Americans bringing with them American ideals,
Castro's stranglehold on the country will be greatly lessened and Cubans
will be exposed to the freedoms that they've been denied," Flake said.
Last year, the House passed a Flake amendment to a bill that funds the
Treasury Department and other government functions to eliminate dollars for
enforecment of the travel ban.
But the Senate did not take up his amendment.
Flake said he will pursue that same legislative strategy this session, as
He conceded he has not received any commitments yet from the House Republican
leadership on his new legislation to eliminate the ban, but that "we'll
certainly seek to have this bill move forward."
He noted it has 25 Republican and 25 Democrat sponsors.
One of those Democrats, Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts,
added a moment of levity to the news conference, quipping: "We believe that
if you really want to drive the Cuban government crazy, you should let them
deal with spring break."
Flake, a member of the House International Relations Committee, has taken
an interest in the issue because he is a staunch proponent of free trade,
believing it fosters democracy and human rights. He sees inconsistencies
in U.S. policy toward Cuba compared with communist governments in China and
American journalists, humanitarian workers, academics and some Cuban-
Americans may be granted permission from the U.S. government to travel to
Cuba, usually by chartered flights. Those without permission may fly from
another country, such as Canada, Mexico or Jamaica, to reach Cuba, but
risk fines from the U.S. government.