Congress continues to be on the wrong side of Cuba policy. The Republican-led House has attached language to a series of appropriations bills that seeks to reverse the progress President Barack Obama and the Cuban government are making to bring the nations closer. These back-door efforts to frustrate diplomacy would ultimately hurt families, stable relations and business in both countries. And they show how far out of synch some in Congress are with reality and public opinion.
The congressional moves are retaliation for Obama's new course on Cuba. In December, the president announced the United States would expand legal travel to the island, increase the amount of money that could be sent back to Cuban nationals and allow new commercial exports to the island. The president has also moved to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba, beginning with removing Cuba from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism. That clears the way for reopening the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Only Congress can end the 54-year-old trade embargo. But members are now undercutting the president's executive actions, too, by placing riders on must-pass spending bills for next year. One rider to the bill funding the departments of Commerce and Justice would prohibit doing business with anyone in Cuba who has family in the Cuban military — an overly broad and almost unverifiable prohibition that's meant to chill trade across the board. A rider to the transportation bill seeks to bar the expansion of travel options to Cuba, from new air flights to ferry service. And the House has proposed legislation that blocks funding for a new U.S. Embassy.
These are the tired salvos from members of Congress who would continue five failed decades of isolation. The world has moved on and so has public sentiment, including among South Florida's Cuban-American community. Gallup polls show that support for Cuba has increased steadily in the United States over nearly 20 years. A MSNBC/Telemundo poll in April found that 59 percent of Americans, including 56 percent of Latinos, approve restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. That tracked a poll in March by Bendixen & Amandi, a Miami-based media and public relations firm, that found a majority of Cuban-Americans said they were in favor of normalizing relations. Last year, the Cuba Poll at Florida International University, which is the longest-running research project to track Cuban-American opinion in South Florida, found that two-thirds of those polled favored diplomatic ties, while a majority opposed the embargo.
Times change. The Cold War is over. China is toying with joining a massive, U.S.-led Pacific trade deal. America is Vietnam's top export market. The United States and Iran are negotiating to put Tehran's nuclear ambitions under wraps. These monumental changes all started with the understanding that national interests evolve. Americans get that with Cuba. Now it's time for Congress to demonstrate the same pragmatism and replace a Cuba policy based on denial and harassment with a more constructive dialogue that acknowledges changing economic and social realities.