House Republican Wants Cuban Travel Restrictions Lifted

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

( - Even though the Elian Gonzalez controversy has made for rocky relations between the United States and Cuba for the past several months, one Republican congressman thinks the United States should lift travel restrictions against the island nation, and he plans to introduce legislation that would make it happen.

Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) tells he believes Americans traveling to Cuba will bring change to that nation. He said he plans to introduce legislation in the House when the Elian Gonzalez controversy cools off.

"We were going to do it immediately, but given the Elian Gonzalez situation, we didn't want to get wrapped up in that story and so we've been waiting for that to quiet down. But, after that does [quiet down] we are going to introduce the bill," Sanford told

Sanford explained how former President Ronald Reagan used travel as a way to reunite Berlin.

"Travel is one of the tools that Ronald Reagan used to bring down the Berlin wall. You had a bunch of young, cheeseburger-eating Americans who wandered all through Eastern Europe and that personal diplomacy was something that I think was a factor in bringing down the Berlin wall," Sanford tells

Sanford believes Castro uses the American travel embargo as an excuse for things that go wrong in Cuba. He came to that conclusion after visiting Cuba twice in the past three years.

"I've been down to Cuba twice and one of the things that has consistently come up is that the excuse he (Castro) uses for everything is this embargo. So everything that goes wrong in the country, it's not because of poor policy it's because of 'the embargo.' So, personal diplomacy is important," Sanford told

Other Cubans not in government told Sanford during his Cuban travels that ending the American embargo on travel to Cuba would be a good foreign policy move for the United States.

"This is not only the opinion of the man on the street, it was independent journalists, it was political dissidents, all of whom said the same thing, which was 'end it,'meaning the embargo overall ... That's where we got the idea that travel would be a modest first step toward doing what they talked about," Sanford told

Sanford said the United States Constitution does not restrict any American's right to travel to any country that he or she wishes to visit.

"You can travel to Sudan where millions of people have been killed. You can travel to Rwanda, you can travel to Afghanistan where [suspected Saudi terrorist Osama] bin Laden has taken up residence. You can travel to North Korea where they've got weapons that they seem to lob over the top of Japan. You can travel to a lot places in the world but right now not to Cuba. That's inconsistent and I think it's a breach of one of our constitutional rights," Sanford said.

He noted that the overriding national security concerns that prompted the US embargo against Cuba are gone. "They went when the Soviet Union pulled out (of Cuba) and our own 1998 Defense Intelligence Agency report showed that Cuba was no longer a military threat," Sanford said.

Sanford's legislation will face opposition in the House. At least two of his fellow Republican lawmakers, Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), both Cuban exiles, have made it clear they will continue to fight any attempt to weaken United States laws and restrictions against Cuba.