Thu Jun 14, 2007 7:33PM EDT
By Missy Ryan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even the staunchest congressional supporters of lifting U.S. sanctions against Cuba are not optimistic any changes will occur while policy toward Havana is tied up in U.S. electoral politics.
"The whole concept that for 45 years we believe that an embargo on the government of Cuba will cause people to ... overthrow (Fidel) Castro ... just defies intelligence," Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, House Ways and Means Committee chairman, told an event on Thursday hosted by the libertarian Cato Institute.
Rangel of New York and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, who are among lawmakers who have sponsored plans to relax the decades-old embargo against the communist-ruled island, called the trade, travel and political restrictions "hypocritical" and "bordering on sophomoric."
"Why is our government telling us where we can and can't go?" Flake asked. He wants to see an end to the entire embargo -- but would settle for incremental measures in the meantime.
The lawmakers acknowledged securing any real reform would be difficult.
"We're sending a message to our government" on behalf of those who want change, said Rangel, who chalked the sanctions up to simple political arithmetic.
With a razor-thin divide between Republican and Democratic support in swing states, politicians see votes from the anti-Castro Cuban-American stronghold in Florida as pivotal, he said.
The Rangel-Flake bill, which would facilitate travel to Cuba for U.S. tourists, students and missionaries, comes amid uncertainty about Cuba's future. Cuban leader Fidel Castro is recovering after emergency bowel surgery in July that forced him to hand over power to his brother Raul.
Since 2001, U.S. businesses have been able to send food and medicine to Cuba. Exports of U.S. poultry, soy, rice and other food have since totaled $1.55 billion.
The U.S. agriculture sector has been lobbying for an end to restrictions such as a rule that Cuba pay for food shipments before they leave U.S. ports.
Dear Reps. Rangel and Flake:
It is time to stop talking and start doing something positive:
1. Call committee hearings and start fighting! fighting! and fighting!
2. Do not use the favorite whining phrase of the Democratic Party: "Oh jeez, we do not have the votes to overwrite a veto!"
3. It is better to fight for what you believe in than blaming the veto threat for your inaction.
4. Coordinate with the people and the organizations that are opposed to the embargo and the travel ban to bombard with thousands of emails and phone calls, on a particular date and time, those right wing Congressmen that are captives of the South Florida Cuban-American Mafia.
5. Do not let the jackboooted thugs of George W. Bush intimidate you.