|After months of redrafting the “Cuban Democracy Act of 1992,” Rep. Robert Torricelli ( D-NJ) introduced the proposed legislation on February 5, 1992 at a press conference where he shared the limelight with Jorge Mas Canosa, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, who participated in the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
As chair of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Torricelli issued a challenge to the Republican White House to update its Cuba policy.
Cuba bashing became a recurrent theme in the election year, principally to undermine Bush’s perceived foreign policy achievements and vie for contributions from the wealthy wing of the Cuban-American community.
The Torricelli bill seeks to extend and tighten the U.S. imposed embargo against Cuba. Among its many features, the bill includes:
_ the language of the Mack Amendment, which would end U.S. corporate subsidiary trade with Cuba ( 70 % of which is in foods and medicines );
_ calling on the president to pressure Western allies to enforce the embargo;
_sanctioning the Latin American countries that trade with Cuba.
_Stopping any ship that trades at a Cuban port from trading at a U.S. port for the following six months.
_U.S. government funding and supplying of opposition groups on and off the island.
The bill is further complicated by the inclusion of items which would seem to improve phone and mail service between Cuba and the United States. Since the bill does not address some of the outstanding issues between the two countries on these points _ namely authorizing AT&T to settle its 80 million debt with the Havana phone company _ observers believe that the language was put there more for marketing purposes within the United States.
Once introduced, the bill was quickly sent to six committees of the House of Representatives: Foreing Affaires, Energy and Commerce; Merchant Marines and Fisheries; Ways and Means; Post Office and Civil Service; and, Banking, Finance and Urban Affaires.
Upon learning that senior lawmakers on Banking planned to squash the initiative, Torricelli scratched a number of clauses that removed it from their jurisdiction.
On march 18; the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened the first of what would be three public hearings on the “Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 “. In perhaps one of the most telling moments in this whole process, the proceedings were delayed several hours when Mas Canosa’s private jet from Florida was late arriving. He, along with elected officials and State Department representatives, gave testimony at that first hearing.
According to information on record with the Federal Election Commission, Torricelli’s largest financial backer is the “Free Cuba” Political Action Committee, which is directly tied to Mas Canosa and the Cuban American National Foundation.
With his hands in one of the biggest campaigns chests in the House of Representatives, Torricelli denies any connection between donations from right- wing Cuban-Americans and his decision to introduce its embargo-tightening bill. Yet in the four years before Torricelli took over the Western Hemisphere subcommittee he received less than $2,000 from the “Free Cuba” PAC.
Soon after that figure jumped to the maximum $10,000 contribution, Rep. Torricelli introduced his bill. He was also handed an additional $16,750 from individual wealthy Cuban-Americans such as Mas Canosa and his wife.
On may 21, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House met to vote on the bill, having completed his hearings. Before the final verdict was in, Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY) introduced an amendment exempting medicines, medical supplies and equipment from the U.S.embargo. Surprising everyone, the amendment passed (11 to 10). Reading the writing on the wall, Torricelli quickly adjourned the meeting and reconvened it two weeks later when ready with the ammunition.
Torricelli opened the June 4 session with a new clause to undercut Weiss’ humanitarian gesture, knowing that any country would soundly reject what he would be demanding of the Cubans. Tagged on is the mandate that a U.S.government official is to accompany every shipment of a U.S. medicine sale to the island in order to oversee the distribution of those goods.
After the amendment passed, Weiss tried once more to exempt food from the embargo.This time, with the cards stacked in Torricelli’s favor, that gesture was defeated and within 24 hours the Committee has approved the entire Act.
Over the next few months, without even bothering to hold hearings on the bill, the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, Energy and Commerce, and Post Office and Civil Service affixed their seals of approval to the bill, with the last two committees waving their jurisdiction over the legislation.
On September 10, the Act cleared the hurdle of the Trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, sending it to the full finance body.
The real blockade action came from the Senate side of the Congress. As controversial propositions sometimes do, the Torricelli Bill snuck to the oval office through a back door. First, Senator Bob Graham unveiled the bill in his chamber at the same time that Torricelli did so in the House.
The Committee on Foreign Relations waited until august before its Western Hemisphere subcommittee held a hearing and did little else until two weeks before the senators adjourned to hit the campaign trail.
At that time Graham made the entire bill a footnote to the Defense Appropriations Act _, which had already been approved by the House minus the blockade- tightening measures.
Without ever holding a full debate in the House, Torricelli and his Florida ally managed to shoot the bill straight to the president’s desk. It should be noted that in the 10 month legislative process, Torricelli repeatedly refused to meet with voters from his district opposed to the Act and his friendship with the Cuban American National Foundation.
Taken from: Cruel & Unusual. Punishment. The U.S. blockade against Cuba. Mary Murray, Ocean Press, 1992.