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Sponsors Of Bill To Lift Cuba Embargo Say It Could See A Vote This Year

U.S. Rep Kathy Castor (left) and U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (center) discuss efforts to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba yesterday in Miami. (At right is Susan Segal, head of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.)

There are bills in both the U.S. House and Senate to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. They haven’t gotten too far. But yesterday the co-sponsors of the House measure were in Miami after a visit to the socialist island - and they were guardedly optimistic their bill might generate enough support this year to bring a vote.

U.S. Representatives Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Kathy Castor of Tampa introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 last summer. The bill would repeal the half-century-old ban on U.S. companies doing business with Cuba.

The Republican-controlled House wants to see more democratic and economic reforms in Cuba before lifting the embargo. But Emmer, a Republican, thinks enough momentum is building outside Washington, especially among agricultural interests in states like his, to give his bill a chance of passing even during this election year.

“We’re not asking people to forget the past, but we’re looking at what is the future of Cuba and its relationship to the United States," says Emmer. "As long as that message is getting to our Republican colleagues and they’re open-minded and willing to look at it, there is a chance – albeit slim – that in 2016 we could have an opportunity to lift the embargo.”

Emmer also said his encounters with both government officials and small business owners in Cuba this week indicated to him that the island is changing sufficiently to warrant that kind of U.S. policy change.

South Florida’s Cuban-American congressional delegation opposes the legislation. But Castor, a Democrat, says Cuban-Americans in her district support it.

“I was born in Miami but have grown up in Tampa and represent a community that is very forward-leaning when it comes to Cuba policy," Castor said. "They would like to help the Cuban people and go further and faster than we are right now.”

Emmer and Castro also met yesterday with South Florida business leaders - many of the Cuban-Americans who support lifting the embargo - at a Miami forum arranged by the New York-based Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

President Obama announced he was normalizing relations with Cuba more than a year ago.