Castor signs on to bill lifting ban on travel to Cuba

07/22/10 Seán Kinane
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Today U.S. Representative Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) announced she is the first member of Congress from Florida to sign on to a bill that would lift the ban on travel to Cuba. "It’s time to modernize those travel restrictions,” Castor told WMNF.

"Well today I signed up to open up the bill that would allow travel to Cuba by all Americans, known as the Travel Bill sponsored by Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts. I signed onto the bill for two main reasons. One, to continue to put pressure on Obama Administration to grant families in our area the right to fly out of Tampa International Airport, so that those families can fly by charter flight from Tampa rather than having to go to Miami which is very costly and inconvenient.

"The second reason is for jobs and an economic boost for our airport and small businesses throughout the Tampa Bay area. I believe we've got to be well positioned as the laws relating to travel and trade relating to Cuba are modernized. Also, because of the historic ties Tampa has to Cuba, I think we're well positioned and we have a lot of potential but now it's time to modernize those travel restrictions."

"You mentioned that you think that laws are being modernized. What makes you think that? And what are some changes that are either happening already or that you think will happen in the near future?"

"Well last year President Obama eased the restrictions on Cuban-American families. They're able to travel now to Cuba when they can. They can also send certain monies to their families, so that was a very positive step. There's also a gaining momentum here in the Congress to lift the travel ban the American government has on all American citizens traveling to Cuba. They're are about 179 sponsors of the bill in the house and it is possible that the bill could move this year or next year. I think that it is just a matter of time now before that restriction is lifted. I mean, this is the only country in the world just about, where the American government prohibits it's citizens from being able to travel to."

"We're speaking with Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa. And Rep. Castor, you mentioned that they're are about 179 co-sponsors of this bill. But that's not a majority in the House of Representatives. How likely do you think it is, you say that it might pass in the next year or two, but how can you get those extra supporters?"

"I believe that if it's brought to the floor of the house today it would pass, because they're are probably many members who are supportive that are not co-sponsors of the bill. So they're are various vehicles or other areas of legislation where it can be offered as an amendment. So it's entirely possible. Also in the appropriations bill that the Congress is about to consider, there may be some opportunities for amendment and they may address additional trade restrictions relating to agricultural products or educational materials to the island of Cuba."

"Of course the right-wing in South Florida have often used this as a litmus test. Do you see any political blow-back for your decision?"

"No, if the South Florida businesses and airport do not want to take advantage of the economic opportunities, I think Tampa is ready to. We've got to diversify our economy. We're not going to be able to rely on real estate development in the short term or the long term. We've got to fight for every type of new job and I think Tampa is particularly well positioned to build on it's historic ties with Cuba, and open up travel opportunities, trade and tourism. We can be a great gateway to Cuba for the rest of the country."

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