Durbin Introduces New Legislation To End Travel Restrictions To Cuba

[CHICAGO] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today discussed legislation he introduced yesterday with Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Tom Udall (D-NM), John Boozman (R-AR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Mike Enzi (R-WY) to lift the embargo on travel between the United States and Cuba. The bipartisan Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 is the first Senate legislation introduced since the Obama Administration announced it wanted to normalize relations with Cuba last month. The bill would end restrictions in laws enacted in 1996 and 2000 on travel by American citizens and legal residents to Cuba and the ban on financial transactions related to that travel.

“I firmly believe that where more emphasis is placed on engagement via American travel and an exchange of ideas, information and goods, we can have a far greater impact than the decades-old failed policies of isolation,” Durbin said. “The President’s announcement is just one step of the many we must take. I am hopeful that we will see legislation shortly that allows the free flow of agriculture and other products to Cuba – including the use of modern banking mechanisms to ease such trade. While we must be realistic about the prospects for Congressional action to fully lift the embargo on Cuba, when a single senator can scuttle it, the American people are ready for this change and my colleagues and I are committed to getting it done.”

Since 2009, Cuban-Americans have been able to travel to Cuba without restriction, but there is broad bipartisan, bicameral support for extending that right to all Americans. Recognizing the need for change, the Administration last month announced, among other initiatives, a series of regulatory reforms related to Cuba. While that announcement included some loosening of the restrictions on travel and trade, only Congress can end the restrictions. 

In addition to this travel bill, Durbin is also considering legislation to end other embargo restrictions, including on agricultural exports and telecommunications. The Illinois Farm Bureau estimates agricultural exports to Cuba, such as corn and soybeans, could increase by $6.6 million, a 15 percent increase from 2009 numbers. It also estimates that Illinois would gain a total $10.9 million in additional business activity if the Cuban market opens up. Current financing restrictions make it challenging for U.S. businesses to compete with Cuba’s other trading partners.

Earlier this month, Durbin visited Cuba as part of a congressional delegation that met with Cuban government officials, members of the opposition and civil society, and officials from the U.S. interests section in Havana.