Miami Republican proposes bill to curb Cuba travel

Congressional Republicans, led by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, filed legislation Tuesday that would limit new travel to Cuba, an attempt to block part of President Barack Obama’s more open policy toward the island’s Communist regime.

The proposed measure would ban new flights and cruises to Cuba. It was tucked into a wide-ranging budget bill drafted by Diaz-Balart, who chairs the House subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development appropriations.

Funding to facilitate travel to Cuba would be prohibited if the airplanes or ships pass through any property confiscated by the Cuban government, which effectively rules out landing or docking at any airport or seaport.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart decried newly permissible trips to Cuba “that include snorkeling, cigar factory tours, salsa dancing lessons, and other obvious tourist activities.”

“Under these circumstances, Congress cannot remain idle,” said Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban American. “The expansion of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba is an obvious attempt to circumvent the tourism ban. Similarly, allowing cruises to dock in Cuba would violate both the spirit and the letter of U.S. law.”

The massive $55 billion budget bill was announced Tuesday with a news release that made no mention of the Cuba provision.

Another group of lawmakers has filed legislation to repeal all travel restrictions to the island.

The provision is sure to spark controversy and a veto threat from the White House. It also faces votes in the Appropriations Committee and in the House, where there is significant sentiment, even among some GOP conservatives, to ease the five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island.

The embargo and travel restrictions, however, have not moved the Castro government toward democracy.

Agriculture organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests have expressed support for the administration’s outreach to Cuba.

The administration rules lifted a requirement that U.S. travelers obtain a license from the Treasury Department before traveling to Cuba. Instead, all that is required is for travelers to assert that their trip would serve educational, religious or other permitted purposes.

Cuban-American Republicans from the Miami area opposed to the Castro regime have had an outsized influence on the government’s Cuba policy since the 1980 mass emigration.

Obama took steps earlier this month to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, another step toward normalizing relations.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.