By: Nora Gámez Torres
Cargill, Procter & Gamble, Caterpillar, and other major U.S. companies have thrown their support behind Engage Cuba, a bipartisan coalition that formally began operating out of the nation’s capital this week and will focus on lobbying Congress to lift restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.
“This is an opportunity to position ourselves in this unique moment in history,” said James Williams, the coalition’s president. “We feel that the wind is in our favor and we are very excited.”
Engage Cuba, which began organizing itself in April, has taken on heavy-hitting issues, such as helping negotiate an agreement between the Florida-based Stonegate Bank and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington to resume bank transactions from the diplomatic mission. Banks had shied away from handling Cuba-related services due to tedious and expensive requirements caused by the embargo.
Among members known to be part of Engage Cuba are the National Foreign Trade Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Council of the Americas, and the American Society of Travel Agents. The coalition also brings together academic and civic organizations that favor rapprochement with Cuba, including CubaNow, Cuba Study Group, and the Center for Democracy in the Americas.
“We are proud to be part of this unprecedented coalition to fight for Washington to finally remove all external barriers that impede the Cuban people from fully benefiting from the experience and ingenuity of the American private sector,” said Ric Herrero, executive director for CubaNow.
Sanctions vs Closer Ties
Engage Cuba has sought support for a bill introduced by Senators Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, to eliminate restrictions on travel to Cuba. The measure has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate. The effort is accompanied by an ad campaign called “Guess What?” which began airing Tuesday on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNBC.
The campaign questions why Americans can travel to North Korea but face limitations with Cuba and states that U.S. companies cannot compete due to restrictions on trade with the island.
“It’s been 50 years. Isn’t it time for a change?” the 30-second ad asks.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives recently passed several bills allocating funds to U.S. government agencies and programs containing restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba. Those bills are now making their way through the Senate.
Critics say adoption is unlikely.
“We feel very good about where we are now. These are like the last gasps of a defeated army that’s in retreat. They are just trying to delay the inevitable,” Williams said. “The Senate will not support those versions of the bill and the White House already has said they would oppose it. So they have zero chance of becoming law.