Elections delay Cuba travel policy expansion

The Obama administration has remained mum on when — or
if — it will unveil a long-expected expansion of US travel to Cuba, Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said last week.

Peter Brennan, coordinator of Cuban affairs at the US
State Department, gave no indications at all on any changes in the travel
policy when she and Mario Diaz-Balart met him Wednesday, Ms Ros-Lehtinen said.

She said the South Florida Republicans requested the
meeting because of the many news media reports that the administration plans to
ease travel to Cuba.

Her understanding from Mr. Brennan was that there was “no
policy decisions that are ready to be announced,” she said. “But we know those
changes are coming.”

State Department spokeswoman Virginia Staab did not
comment on the news media reports but said the administration “remains
committed to promoting policies that advance the Cuban people’s desire to
freely determine their country’s future, that enhance the independence of the
Cuban people, and that further the [US] national interests. Mr. Brennan did not
say anything to the contrary to members of Congress.”

Ms Ros-Lehtinen said she and Mr. Diaz-Balart told Mr.
Brennan they oppose softening the travel restrictions because that would only
help the Cuban government “at a time when the regime is very weak.”

The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and other news media
have reported the White House had decided to ease restrictions on educational
and cultural travel to Cuba. Some reports predicted the changes would be
unveiled during the recent congressional recess, but no announcement was made.

The Washington-based United States-Cuba Policy &
Business Blog, which favours easing US sanctions, reported Saturday that the
White House had delayed the announcement until after the 2 November elections.

South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
and Kendrick Meek — who is a Senate candidate — and Sen. Bill Nelson pushed
for the delay to avoid hurting their party’s chances, the blog added.

Opposition from Cuban-American Sen. Bob Menendez, a
Democrat from New Jersey, also helped to delay the announcement, said a
Democratic party operative. “But it [the announcement] is still going to
happen,” he added.

Meanwhile, a bill that would lift all restrictions on US
travel to Cuba remained in limbo, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman
Howard Berman, a California Democrat, telling reporters earlier this month that
he’s five short of the votes needed to send it to the full House.

Mr. Berman said he was looking for the five votes, but
the Washington blog said he was “mostly half-hearted and not very inspiring . .
. He may be ‘committed’ to the issue but only to a point.”

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