``There would be an explosion of contacts between Americans and
Cubans . . . that would almost overshadow what the two governments are
doing,'' said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute think
tank in suburban Washington.
Proponents say the measures still have not received active
support from the White House and the Democratic leadership in both chambers.
Cuban officials have told recent U.S. visitors that while
President Barack Obama's policy changes so far have been too timid to require
a Havana reply, ending the U.S. travel ban would be significant enough to
require some sort of Havana concession.
Even opponents of the free-travel bills in the House and Senate
admit the campaign for approval is powerful. ``I have never seen a stronger
effort,'' said Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy political
Backing the change has been the U.S. travel industry -- Orbitz
says it has 100,000 signatures on a petition -- and dozens of newspaper
editorials, large agricultural companies, former Secretary of State George
Shultz, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and groups that traditionally oppose
U.S. sanctions on the island.
``Our goals should be to get rid of the travel ban in the next
six months,'' Richardson said Friday during a speech to the National
Democratic Network in Washington. ``This is a step in the right direction,''
Shultz declared last month.
Polls show 60-70 percent of all Americans favor lifting the
travel restrictions, and one House bill championed by Massachusetts Democrat
Bill Delahunt has gathered 180 sponsors -- 38 short of the 218 votes required
Obama ended all restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to the
island on Sept. 3. But other U.S. citizens and residents can travel only under
special permits for groups such as churches, academics and business -- not for
tourism. That was allowed, however, from 1977 to 1982 under former President
Jimmy Carter's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.
Most of the public attention has been focused on the House bill
backed by Delahunt and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif. Farr, noting that U.S
agricultural sales to Cuba are allowed but not tourism, has repeated several
variations of the line that ``We can send American potatoes to Cuba, but not
But a lesser-known version has a better chance of passing
because it also eases restrictions on U.S. agricultural and medical sales to
Cuba, in hopes of gathering support from those lobbies, said a Senate
Republican staffer monitoring the progress of the travel bills.
The main Senate version of the measure -- with 25 co-sponsors
from both parties at last count -- is being championed by Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.,
Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Michael Enzi, R-Wyo. and Richard Lugar, R-Ind.