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Cuba Travel Policy

Sen. Marco Rubio

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Mr. President, there is a lot of conversation in the building today about one of the provisions that is holding up the omnibus; they are saying this is Cuba travel, families traveling back to Cuba. I have strong opinions about that as well. Suffice it to say that it is important to let my colleagues know what is being asked for in the omnibus, and what will be coming over here if it is kept in, will not prohibit families from traveling to Cuba. It will limit the amount that they can. That is a wise policy, one that I support, because it limits access to hard currency to a tyrannical regime.

I am here to talk about a different part of the Cuba policy, however, Cuban travel, which does not get a lot of notice these days, but it is part of conversations that are ongoing with the administration and the State Department with regard to some of the appointments they have in the Western Hemisphere, and that is the so-called people-to-people travel.

I have here in my hand an immediate release from January 14, 2011, titled ``Reaching Out to the Cuban People.'' It came from the President, where he announced a series of steps to continue efforts to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country's future.

One of the changes they made is to something they call purposeful travel. It says here:

The President believes these actions--

Which I am about to describe--

combined with the continuation of the embargo, are important steps in reaching the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens.

Right here in this release--and I am glad he wrote it--the President is stating that in combination with the embargo, the steps that he wanted to take, the goal of these steps was reaching the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all of its citizens. That is the reason why he made these policy changes. So far so good.

Let me tell you one of the policy changes. It is called ``restore specific licensing of educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes people-to-people programs.''

What that means in plain English is this is not colleges or universities; these are organizations not for degree credits--educational in purpose, but not for degree credits. What we want to do is encourage them or allow them the opportunity to take Americans to Cuba under their auspices.

Again, remember, the goal here is to bring about, as the President stated, ``the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all of its citizens.'' That is the purpose of these trips.

I decided to look up some of these trips, and let's look at some of the itineraries. They are very interesting. Let me read you one. This one is from an organization called Insight Cuba. It is located in New York. I am not going to advertise their Web site. Let them pay for it. But I will tell you this. There is an itinerary for something called the Cuban Music & Art Experience. Sounds interesting, the Cuban Music & Art Experience. Let's go to some of the highlights.

Day 2 in Havana. You are going to get to meet with the Castro Ministry of Culture to learn how Cuba promotes the arts on this diverse island. You are also going to get to spend the evening--and this will become a familiar theme here--dusting off your dancing shoes, because tonight you are going to head off to Casa de la Musica. Here you will enjoy performances by local Cuban artists and, of course, dance. They put an exclamation mark after it. This is an important part of this trip. This is day 2 of this trip designed to promote, as the President wrote, ``the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of its citizens.''

Day 3 is interesting too. You get to go to this place Casa de la Amistad, which basically means Friendship House. There you will meet with your Cuban ``host'' which I would bet you right now is members of the Castro government and perhaps enjoy another exciting musical performance. Then you spend the evening of day 3 back at Casa de la Musica for some incredible salsa music and dancing.

Day 4 is the real highlight of this trip. This is not to be missed. You get to fly to Santiago de Cuba. Guess where you get to visit. You get to visit a place called Quartel Moncada, which is basically an old army barracks where, on July 26 of 1952, Fidel Castro launched the Cuban revolution. You get to visit this place where Fidel Castro's revolution actually began. Imagine. I can see where that begins to further ``the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all of its citizens.''

Guess what you get to do at night. You guessed it. You get to spend the night at a music and local dance club to hear performances by Cuba's most popular artists and you get to dance. It goes on and on.

Day 5 has dancing.

Day 6, you get to visit the historic Granma Province, which is known as the birthplace of Cuban nationality. You get to meet with the Cuban Institute for Friendship Between the People, which is a very catchy title. That night, you get to spend the evening at Casa de la Trova to dance and take in a performance of Cuban artists. It goes on and on.

Day 7.

Day 8.

This is quite an adventure and in pursuit of the government of Cuba that respects the basic rights of all of its citizens.

Let me share another one. Before I get to one, I think this is another Insight Cuba one. This one takes you, on day 1--this is called the Havana Jazz Experience, and on day 1, it takes you to explore the famous Cathedral Square, the City Museum, and the Havana Club Rum Museum. This is part of this effort to bring about freedom and democracy in Cuba. You get to go there. At night, you go to the jazz club La Zorra y el Cuervo. There you get to do some of the best dancing you can ever imagine, in a very intimate setting.

Day 3 brings you to Cojimar, which is a village which is the setting for ``The Old Man and the Sea'' which won the Nobel prize for literature in 1954, Ernest Hemingway, very interesting. You get to sit there at night and then you do get to go up to the hills where you get to learn about the religion of Santeria, which is an Afro-Cuban religion. You get to learn all about that.

Then at night you get to go back to Havana--you guessed it--for dancing at a local jazz club.

Day 4, you get to go to the infamous now--I have already mentioned it before--Casa de la Amistad, a historic mansion, where you will have the opportunity to observe a forum regarding United States-Cuba relations put together by the Cuban government, very interesting, in pursuit of the goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all of its citizens. You spend the night at a jazz cafe, where the seaside view is almost as impressive as the musicians who play there nightly. I am guessing now, I am not sure, but there might be some dancing involved on night 4 in Cuba.

Night 5 is quite interesting too, because there you get to learn from the actual Cuban musicians about the sensual and passionate rhythms of their music, and you round out the day with a 2-hour salsa class, in furtherance of freedom and democracy. That is trip No. 2.

There are a lot of these. There is one more. This one is good. This one is called ``Cuba for Educators: Ethics & The Revolution.'' So you go to Cuba to learn about ethics from the Castro regime.

On day 2 you get to visit the Museum of the Revolution where you will learn about the ethical foundations of the Cuban revolution. This is not to be missed. Clearly we want to learn about ethics from the Castro regime. Then you get to go to the Literacy Museum, where you get to learn about Cuba's war on illiteracy, which was one of Fidel Castro's goals in his 1960 speech to the United Nations.

Day No. 3, you get to meet the Ministry of Public Health, which I assure you is a government employee, because it sounds like it, Ministry of Public Health, and you get to discuss why revolutionary ethics demand free public health care, while our own society will not even consider it. Very interesting. It goes on and on. And, by the way, there is a bunch of dancing in this one too. But I think you get the point. This is run by a group called the Center for Cuban Studies.

Why do I say all of this? It is pretty simple. There is this sports show, I think it is on ESPN on Sunday nights where they review NFL highlights. Michael Irvin, who was a great player, has a segment called ``Come On, Man,'' where they put on some ridiculous things that happened during the day. He is like, ``Come on, man.'' When I look at this stuff, you know what I want to say? Come on, man.

This is about promoting democracy and freedom in Cuba? This is not about promoting freedom and democracy in Cuba. This is nothing more than tourism. This is tourism for Americans who at best are curious about Cuba and, at worst, sympathize with the Cuban regime.

You may ask: We are a free society. Why would we restrict that? Here is why. Because this is not just a source of irritation; this is a source of hard currency, of millions of dollars in the hands of the Castro government that they use to oppress the Cuban people, and to jail and hold hostage an American citizen, who today is being held hostage in Cuba, Alan Gross. By the way, after they took him hostage, we implemented this policy.

So this policy is a reward for what? Here is my challenge to the administration and the State Department. I know you are not going to change your mind. I know you people in this people-to-people stuff. I know someone has sold you a bill of goods that this people-to-people travel is a good idea, it will further democracy and freedom in Cuba. I get that. You are not going to change your mind. But at least examine how this is being implemented, because this is a charade. This is an embarrassment. These people are getting licenses to conduct this outrageous tourism, which, quite frankly, borders on indoctrination of Americans by Castro government officials.

I hope we will continue to look at this, and that this administration, as part of its Western Hemispheric approach, will look at these trips for what they are. They are an outrage. They are grotesque. They are providing hard currency to a regime that oppresses its people, that jails people because they disagree with the government. It is wrong. This is not what we are about as a country. This cannot be what we defend. Even if you agree with this people-to-people theory and concept, you cannot justify how this program is being implemented, or these people who are getting licenses to conduct these kinds of trips.

I hope in our conversations with the State Department about their appointments in the Western Hemisphere, and specifically the nomination of Roberta Jacobsen, we will use that as an opportunity to examine how these programs are being implemented. Because, quite frankly, they are an outrage.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. Harry Reid

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.