A new beginning in US-Cuba relations still depends on Congress
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When Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryUS inaction is hurting the chance for peace in Libya Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much 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 FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE (R-Ariz.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyJustice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Democratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus MORE (D-Vt.), and supported by both Democrats like Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (Ill.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus MORE (N.M.), and Republicans such as John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanOn The Money: Stocks have worst week in a decade on coronavirus fears | Fed chief hints at rate cut | Trump pushes central bank for action | Kudlow advises investors to 'think about buying the dip' Republicans growing nervous about 2020 economy Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip MORE (Ark.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranRand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate Sinema criticizes Paul for alleged behavior ahead of coronavirus test results: 'Absolutely irresponsible' Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (Kan.) and Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Republicans scramble to avoid Medicare land mine 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 KlobucharDemocrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots MORE (D-Minn.), with wide bipartisan co-sponsors like Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCoronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus Coronavirus stimulus talks hit setback as crisis deepens Democrats call for stimulus to boost Social Security benefits by 0 a month 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 EmmerHouse Democratic campaign arm outraises GOP counterpart in February How campaigns are adapting to coronavirus Dems unlikely to subpoena Bolton MORE of Minnesota, with bipartisan support from Democrat Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOvernight Energy: Military sees surge in sites contaminated by 'forever chemicals' | USDA closes office wing due to coronavirus | Watchdog raises concerns over Trump energy regulator Biden seeks to capitalize on Super Tuesday surprise M ad buy praises swing-district Democrats' environmental work 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 RubioConfusion surrounds launch of 9B in small-business loans Trump officials report billions in small business loans on first day of program Miami Herald: Citadel Securities has set up shop in Palm Beach Four Seasons amid NY outbreak 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.