A new beginning in US-Cuba relations still depends on Congress
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When Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWe haven't seen how low it can go OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears Biden-Sanders 'unity task force' rolls out platform recommendations 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 FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyFinger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse MORE (D-Vt.), and supported by both Democrats like Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats MORE (Ill.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHispanic Democrats build capital with big primary wins Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer MORE (N.M.), and Republicans such as John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick The Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports MORE (Ark.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls MORE (Kan.) and Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Chamber of Commerce endorses Cornyn for reelection Trump, GOP clash over new round of checks 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 KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State election officials warn budget cuts could lead to November chaos Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street MORE (D-Minn.), with wide bipartisan co-sponsors like Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list 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 Republicans voice optimism on winning back the House following special election victories GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans MORE of Minnesota, with bipartisan support from Democrat Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 House Dems to offer up road map to solve the climate crisis 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 RubioGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump 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.