Congressional opponents of President Obama’s new Cuba policy have finally initiated a legislative effort to counteract the recent thaw in relations between America and Cuba. On Tuesday, a contingent of Republican hardliners in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a provision into an upcoming House Department of Transportation appropriations bill that prohibits government spending on the promotion of travel from the U.S. to Cuba.
The measure specifically bars the American government from using public funds to facilitate any air transportation from the U.S. to Cuba that would land on or pass through property confiscated by the Cuban government. In addition, the provision restricts the ability of the U.S. government to issue operating certificates and licenses to any maritime vessels that have recently docked within seven miles of property appropriated by the Castro regime. If ultimately enacted, these limitations would severely limit any regular travel and trade between the U.S. and Cuba.
“U.S. law prohibits tourism in Cuba, and U.S. law also allows for those whose properties were confiscated by the Castro regime to sue those who use, or benefit from using, those confiscated properties,” Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a vocal critic of President Obama’s efforts to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, explained in an attempt to justify the new regulations that he personally introduced into the transportation bill. “Despite these clear provisions in U.S. law, the Obama administration has expanded travel to Cuba and turned a blind eye to the property claims of Americans.”
Prior to the 1959 Cuban revolution that toppled the government of the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, 85 percent of Cuba’s arable land was owned by American multinationals and investors -holdings that would be worth $2.8 billion today. After seizing power, Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government unveiled a land reform program that would’ve redistributed that land among Cuba’s landless peasants. The plan promised to monetarily compensate the American parties involved for their losses. When the Eisenhower administration balked at this initiative, severing the U.S.’s commercial ties with Cuba and launching a long-term covert campaign to overthrow the new Cuban government in the months after the revolution, Castro abandoned the reform plan and simply confiscated and nationalized the properties in question. The Castro regime also seized the private businesses of countless native Cubans in the wake of the revolution.
The poison pill that Republican lawmakers attached to the House transportation bill on Tuesday is expected to face stiff opposition from congressional supporters of President Obama’s new policy of Cuban détente. If the bill is passed as is however, the president may be compelled to step in and utilize his veto power to block the legislation. This would be controversial as the the larger transportation bill in question is considered urgent must-pass legislation by many. Still, it’s unlikely that the president will sit back silently while a clique of hardliners in the House attempt to effectively nullify several of the changes his administration has made to U.S.-Cuba travel and trade regulations since December. Certainly any future efforts at normalization would be sabotaged if the new restrictive measures were allowed to be implemented.