Congress is awakening to the reality that America's trade embargo against Cuba hurts ordinary Americans more than it does the Castro regime. A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a bill this week that would allow Americans to travel freely to the island. The move is a step toward bringing U.S.-Cuba relations out of the Cold War and into the globalized era, where economic ties can strengthen political ones. Florida has more at stake than any state, and its delegation should be leading this fight.
But there's not a single Florida member among the 20 Senate members and 124 House members sponsoring the one-page bill. It would prohibit the president from barring American citizens or legal residents from traveling to Cuba, except in cases of war or "imminent" danger to travelers' health or safety. The move would restore a value fundamental to American society — the freedom of movement — that Washington has largely denied its own citizens since the Castros took power a half-century ago.
Florida's Republican delegation has a long history of siding with Cuban expatriates who support the ineffective 47-year-old U.S. embargo. But Florida's Democratic members of Congress, in particular, should be pushing to normalize Cuban relations instead of playing it safe. Sen. Bill Nelson said unrestricted travel goes too far and would reward the Castro regime. Rep. Kathy Castor said changing Cuba policy was not a "front-burner" issue for Congress or the Obama administration.
It should be. Beyond the ties between Cuba and Tampa's Cuban-American community, opening Cuba represents a great commercial opportunity here. The St. Petersburg Times' David Adams reported last month that Cuba's agricultural trade could be worth more than $1.7 billion. Ports in Tampa and Manatee, which have already shipped phosphate-based animal feed supplements to Cuba, are well positioned to benefit. Tampa's port has been preparing for years to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal. Taxpayers are set to spend $104 million in federal stimulus money to build an express truck route to the port. With so much public money going to expand the region's trade capacity, area representatives in Congress should be pushing the White House to normalize relations.