A new beginning in US-Cuba relations still depends on Congress
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When Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDemocratic debates are magnet for lobbyists The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Bring on the brokered convention MORE raises the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14, he will officially mark the end of an era of failed foreign policy. Kerry's official actions this Friday will be historic not only for ending the more than half a century of isolation. It will also open up the next battlefront in the continued quest for normalization: Capitol Hill. With three bills pending — two to end the trade embargo, and one that permanently lifts the travel ban — attention in this country will focus on whether a small minority of legislators continue to block the modernization, both economic and political, of an island nation of 9 million people.

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President Obama could go only so far in terms of his executive actions to normalize the U.S.-Cuba relationship. In early January of this year, he was able to ease the travel ban for Americans who wanted to visit, allowing trips to take place under 12 broad categories. This created a boom for tour operators as visitors from this country to Cuba have more than tripled, even if the number of hotels and the capacity to host people has been strained. It has been a boon for Airbnb, the Internet booking service that tapped the existing entrepreneurial vein of many Cubans seeking to earn dollars as hosts.

The Freedom to Travel Act of 2015, the work of Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Flake: Republicans don't speak out against Trump 'because they want to keep their jobs' GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Lawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request MORE (D-Vt.), and supported by both Democrats like Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment GOP senator calls for public health emergency over new coronavirus Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum MORE (Ill.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallIt is time for companies and governments to holistically tackle single-use plastics Citizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (N.M.), and Republicans such as John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanAppropriators fume over reports of Trump plan to reprogram .2 billion for wall The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (Ark.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses McConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts MORE (Kan.) and Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump MORE (Wyo.), echo the important national interest in having American citizens travel, unimpeded by rules about a trip's intended purpose. Action is pending on this bill, but we are now in summer recess.

Lifting the 54-year-old embargo remains the other unfinished business. One bill, the Freedom to Export Act, introduced in February by Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar plans campaign rallies across Iowa despite impeachment trial Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators Sanders says it's 'disappointing' he's not on campaign trail in Iowa MORE (D-Minn.), with wide bipartisan co-sponsors like Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate fails to get deal to speed up fight over impeachment rules The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial John Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event MORE (D-Mich.), Enzi, Flake, Leahy and Durbin, would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba. Klobuchar noted that "fifty years of the embargo have not secured our interests in Cuba and have disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce with a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores. There are many issues in our relationship with Cuba that must be addressed, but this legislation to lift the embargo will begin to open up new opportunities for American companies, boost job creation and exports, and help improve the quality of life for the Cuban people." The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba is also endorsing this effort.

A second bill, the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, introduced last month in the House by Republican Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats House GOP campaign chief: Members 'need to get their act together and raise more money' House GOP campaign arm faces ethics complaint over 'trackers' in Capitol buildings MORE of Minnesota, with bipartisan support from Democrat Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Pelosi warns of 'existential' climate threat, vows bold action Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows to push for Paris climate goals | Senate confirms Brouillette to succeed Perry at Energy | EPA under attack from all sides over ethanol rule MORE of Florida, is also pending. As Emmer told USA Today when he introduced his legislation, "I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn't about the Cuban government — it's about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life." A new Pew Research Center poll done in July showed that 72 percent of Americans favored an end to the embargo, up from 66 percent in January. In spite of public support for this next step, we will continue to see resistance to opening the door to economic exchanges by members who are still mired in the past and refuse to accept the wisdom of their own citizens about the foolishness of such trade restrictions.

Congress will also be called upon when Obama nominates an ambassador to Cuba. Any name put forward will also require the approval of the Senate, a body with some naysayers who are more than likely to block anyone put up by the administration. Having an ambassador would be further demonstration of our commitment to rebuilding trust and our mature relationship with a neighbor.

Full relations with any country depends on our ability to trade and develop commercial relationships that go beyond the people-to-people engagements that still form the core of exchange. But in the meantime, a very Cuban form of capitalism is already thriving as entrepreneurs have built many businesses that cater to tourists and locals alike. For example, Cubans see the latest movies and TV series taken off the Internet and sold to people by vendors who go door to door with USB sticks that clients can use to download. No pay per view, but pay for the service. Foodie tourists can partake of the wonderful culinary talent of restaurateurs in the renowned paladares, which serve as gastronomic laboratories showing off the bounties of tropical products — even if getting some of the basic goods requires creating your own local supply chain and having friends head to Miami or Cancun to do a quick run to Costco for supplies!

In Cuba, where the leadership still remains uncertain about how their socialist revolution will end, continued inaction to end the embargo only reinforces the regime's propaganda that all of Cuba's troubles arise from it. Ending the embargo would not only accelerate the change taking place amidst Cuba's entrepreneurial society, but would create more unease for Havana's leadership. Greater commerce, more access to the Internet and greater employment are the best ways to promote peaceful changes among a society of young, vibrant Cubans who dream of entry into the connected world of the 21st century. And moreover, who dream of the freedom that we so often take for granted.

But in this season of political uncertainty, where one of the main opponents of the Obama policy, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCommerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address Senators press DHS over visa approval for Pensacola naval base shooter MORE (R-Fla.), is himself a presidential contender, progress on Capitol Hill will be stymied by the onslaught of anti-Cuba campaign sound bites rather than actions that represent the will of the American people to move beyond a sad episode of our Cold War past.

Forman is a senior adviser at the Stimson Center and a scholar-in-residence at the School of International Service at American University in Washington.