Despite the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba announced by President Obama in December of 2014, the idea of removing the more than 50-year-old economic embargo against the communist island doesn’t appear to be any closer to fading away. The Republican-led Congress would have to repeal both the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the Trading With The Enemy Act for that to occur.
And while Democrats feel pretty good about their chances of recapturing control of the Senate this fall, the House remains much more elusive. Having said that, California Democratic Rep. John Garamendi says a Democratic House majority could easily vote both measures.
“I thought they would have been removed when I was about 30,” said the veteran lawmaker, who, for the record, turned 71 in January. “It really needs to go. We’re dealing with every country around the world and not to deal with Cuba in a comprehensive way, economically, tourist, commerce, banking, all of those things. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Garamendi was one of a group of six lawmakers who joined Tampa Bay-area Democrat Kathy Castor to Cuba last winter. Castor has emerged in the past few years as the leader in Congress in trying to build momentum to overturn the sanctions. In 2013, she became the first Florida lawmaker to call for economic sanctions against Cuba to end, and has continued to work with the Obama administration on other items regarding travel and commerce since then.
Congressional Republicans such as Marco Rubio has denounced the Obama administration for resuming diplomatic relations with the Raul Castro-led government, and continue to say that the regime has remained repressive when it comes to human rights, embarrassing the administration.
Garamendi preaches patience on the human rights front.
“Do I expect the Cuban government to change overnight and become an open society and democracy? No, but we deal very closely with many, many countries around the world such as China,” he said inside the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Philadelphia. China and human rights? The two don’t go together. It’s the more interaction that the U.S. has with commerce and tourism and all of the other trade — it’s more likely then that Cuba will have to change.”
Garamendi says the Castor-led trip was the first time he’s ever visited Cuba.
“I’d been wanting to do it for years, decades, and it was the first opportunity I really had,” he said. “It was a very important for me, personally, and I think it’s important to talk to other members of Congress – don’t expect the human rights issue to be resolved today or tomorrow.”
Garamendi is optimistic that the more interactions members of Congress have with Cuban officials can help them make a transition towards a more democratic society. Skeptics will remain, though, until there are more tangible measures made by the communist government.