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#CubaNow Briefing: Betting On The House

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

Jun 24, 2016


After last week’s major progress in the Senate, which saw the Appropriations Committee advance a number of pro-engagement Cuba amendments, the House this week followed suit with some notable developments of its own—though an unrelated protest led to floor votes being postponed until next month.

At the heart of the matter is the financial services appropriations bill making its way through both chambers of Congress. Amendments to lift the travel ban for a year and allow the extension of credit to Cuba to purchase agricultural products cleared the House Rules Committee and were up for a floor vote this week. But as many likely have already seen on the news, a “sit-in” over gun control disrupted the week’s legislative schedule, which means a vote on the financial services bill will now have to wait until Congress returns from its 4th of July recess.

This is where you come in. Grassroots lobbying efforts have helped spur a remarkable increase in support for engagement in Congress, even compared to just a year ago. Support for repealing the travel ban in the Senate is now in the majority, a fact that reflects the widespread support for repeal that exists across the political spectrum. After all, it's not every day that we see President Obama and Grover Norquist agree on the same policy. But that doesn’t mean efforts to roll back common sense Cuba policies are over. The financial services bill also includes regressive amendments to roll back travel and trade with Cuba, and their sponsors will no doubt be redoubling their efforts in the next few days to see them included in any final deal.

Contact your local representative and tell them that reverting to failed Cold War policies is not an option. Since D-17, we’ve seen how opening up engagement has benefited both the American and Cuban people—and with a repeal of the travel ban in reach, now is no time to let up.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez

Political Director,#CubaNow

The House Briefly Makes Progress On Cuba

Democratic Protest Over Gun Control Laws Postpones Vote On Cuba Amendments. “A 'sit-in' by Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill to push for gun control legislation,[sic] forced a delay of votes on various proposals related to Cuba that was included in a draft budget for financial services and other government spending slated to [go] before the House of Representatives Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, Democratic lawmakers led by John Lewis began a protest that continued through the wee hours on Thursday and forced Republican leaders to abandon plans to discuss a proposed bill containing amendments and provisions that would further chip away at the U.S. embargo against Cuba as well as strengthen current sanctions." [InCubaToday, "Democratic sit-in postpones vote on Cuba measures," 6/23/16]

House Rules Committee Clears Way For Floor Vote On Agriculture Exports Reform. “The House Rules Committee on Tuesday (June 21) cleared the way for a floor vote on an amendment that would allow private companies to extend credit to Cuba to purchase U.S. agriculture products. Tuesday’s results mean the measure, which would change limitations on credit under the Cuba embargo, is headed to both the House and Senate floors as part of financial services appropriations bills in each chamber. The Senate Financial Services committee approved its bill on June 16.” [Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, “House Amendment On Cuba Credit For U.S. Agriculture Products,” 6/22/16]

American Society Of Travel Agents Calls For Approval Of House Amendment Repealing The Travel Ban. “ASTA is urging approval of a proposed amendment to a financial services appropriations bill that would end the ban on travel to Cuba. In a statement, ASTA President & CEO Zane Kerby said, ‘ASTA has long believed that Americans ought to be allowed to travel across the globe without restriction, allowing them to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values abroad.’ The amendment—offered by U.S. Representatives Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and others—could be voted on as soon  as tonight. Last week, the Senate Committee on Appropriations unanimously approved an amendment to its version of the financial services budget bill that would lift the Cuba travel ban for one year. That amendment is, in effect, identical to the House’s amendment.” [Travelpulse, “ASTA Applauds Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act Amendment,” 6/22/16]-

U.S.-Cuba Engagement On The Rise

“InCubando” Pilot Project At FIU Trains Young Cuban Entrepreneurs On Running A Business. “Deus’ pioneering moxie caught the eye of Florida International University in Miami. She’s one of 15 young Cuban entrepreneurs taking part in an FIU pilot project this summer called InCubando. (That’s a Spanish pun for business ‘incubating.’) InCubando is the first college-based business education program in the U.S. expressly for Cuba’s fledgling business owners. It’s the brainchild of Roots of Hope – a Miami-based group that promotes outreach between Cubans and Cuban-Americans – and FIU’s Cuba Research Institute and College of Business. “We are trying to learn from them how they have been doing business in Cuba in a planned economy,’ says Carlos Parra, an FIU marketing and information systems professor and an InCubando director.” [WLRN, “Young Pioneers: How Cuban Entrepreneurs Are ‘InCubating’ In Miami,” 6/20/16]

Tampa Bay Times Editorial: Keep Pushing For Commercial Flights And A Consulate In Tampa. “Since President Barack Obama first relaxed trade and travel restrictions on the island in 2009, the two nations have moved across a broad political and economic front to build stronger ties. The commercial flights will help build confidence as the two sides work to fully normalize relations. Closer to home, they will make it easier and cheaper for Tampa Bay residents to visit; for Cuban-Americans here to rekindle family and cultural ties; and for the region's business community to play a bigger role as Cuba reopens to the outside world. Local leaders should push for Tampa to get the commercial flights and for the region to host a Cuban consulate.” [Tampa Bay Times, “Editorial: Keep pushing for Tampa flights to Cuba,” 6/17/16]

Nespresso Will Begin Selling Cuban Coffee In The U.S. “The first iconic Cuban product to reach U.S. store shelves will be coffee. Sorry, no rum or cigars just yet. Swiss-based Nespresso announced Monday that it will sell long-restricted coffee throughout the U.S. starting this fall, the latest evidence of renewed ties between the United States and Cuba after five decades of estrangement. The coffee will first be sold as a limited edition, called Cafecito de Cuba, in stores, online and over the phone, with the eventual goal of making it a regular product. Guillaume Le Cunff, president of Nespresso USA, said it's good to be the first company to provide Cuban coffee to the U.S. market. He stressed that Nespresso is more interested in developing a long-term arrangement to ensure a steady supply of Cuban coffee for U.S. customers and improved living conditions for Cuba's farmers.” [USA Today, “First Cuban product to be sold in U.S.: coffee—sorry no cigar,” 6/21/16]

Louisiana Business Summit Explores Ramping Up Business With Cuba. “More than a half-century ago, ferry-boats regularly brought tourists from New Orleans to Cuba, separated by only 700 miles. Now, with commercial air service expected to resume to the isolated island nation amid normalizing U.S. relations, Louisiana could reap some benefit from ramping up business with its onetime leading trade partner. That’s according to a range of state leaders and experts in Cuba’s aging infrastructure, culture and struggling economy, who spoke at a business summit Wednesday at Gallier Hall. ‘As we work together, it’s a two-way street,’ said Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain. ‘We have to work to rebuild the relationships, and the greatest way to rebuild the relationships is with trade.’” [New Orleans Advocate, “How Cuba could be an opportunity for one-time top trade partner Louisiana,” 6/22/16]

Happening On The Island

Americans Looking To Tap Into Cuba’s Organic Farming. “To be sure, Cuba still imports 60 percent to 80 percent of its food, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates, and little or none of it organic. Agricultural chemicals are imported from other countries without trade embargoes. The Cuban government owns about 80 percent of the land the nation could use to grow food, but more than half remains fallow. It is unclear how much of the produce Cuba grows would qualify as organic under United States standards. Still, a cohesive organic movement is growing. By its own estimates, Cuba has almost 400,000 urban farms, among them about 10,000 small organic ones. The government continues to turn land over to independent farmers to lease, although it requires most to grow food for the state. For the group of organic true believers who traveled here in May, the dream is to help Cuba stay loyal to a sustainable style of agriculture that rejects chemicals and genetic modification. They point to an incentive: an American market hungry — and willing to pay a premium — for organic produce.” [New York Times, “A Rush of Americans, Seeking Gold in Cuban Soil,” 6/20/16]

New York Times Profiles The Role Of Gay Bars In Cuba. “On an island of communists, gay Cubans were long Havana’s have-nots, the last among equals. That began to change in 2008, when, after a gay rights speech by Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of President Raúl Castro, the capital staged its first gay pride parade, which has continued annually, less as a shirtless spectacle and more as a protest. Kingbar, which opened last year in the hip Vedado neighborhood, harks back to a time when American gay bars still had a bit of a renegade quality. ‘It’s like freedom of expression,’ said Manuel Subarez, 27, a sandwich maker at a cafe who is also a ‘full-time Lena Dunham superfan.’ ‘It’s like we can do anything we want today, because we are gay,’ he said at this year’s parade, tugging proudly on his Keith Haring tank top. Homosexuality was legalized here in 1979, but a 1988 law prohibits a ‘publicly manifested’ presence. ‘The revolution continues,’ said Dr. Castro, 53, a sex educator, at the official post-parade festival as she held a rainbow placard of this year’s motto, ‘Yo Me Incluyo (I Include Myself).’ ‘Until there is equality and diversity for all Cubans in all aspects of our society.’” [New York Times, “In Havana, Gay Bars Hold Their Own Against the Internet,” 6/17/16]

FARC And Colombian Government Agree To Cease-Fire In Havana. “The Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group said Wednesday that they had agreed to a cease-fire, clearing a major hurdle in the effort to end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. In a joint statement, the two sides said that they had overcome some of the most intractable parts of a peace deal, which they have been negotiating in Havana since 2012. In addition to a cease-fire, the rebels — known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC — agreed to lay down their arms. The two sides said they would hold a ceremony in Havana on Thursday to mark the cease-fire, attended by Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, the FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño and other Latin American leaders. Negotiators hope a final peace deal will be reached in the days or weeks to come.” [New York Times, “FARC Rebels in Colombia Reach Cease-Fire Deal With Government,” 6/22/16]

¡No Me Digas! 

Following Visit To The Island, Bon Jovi Says He Want To Play In Cuba In 2017. “Cuba, get ready to rock 'n' roll. Jon Bon Jovi and wife Dorothrea Bongiovi visited Cuba over the weekend and he wants to return with his band. The rocker said he's interested in playing Cuba as part of a 2017 tour in support of the upcoming album, ‘This House Is Not For Sale,’ according to Granma, the media outlet of the Cuban communist party. He's also disappointed the ‘Rolling Stones got here ahead of me,’ said  Bon Jovi, in reference to the Stones' March 25 show  at the Ciudad Deportiva in Havana.” [Asbury Park Press, “Bon Jovi in Cuba: We will rock you,” 6/21/16]