The departure of Democratic senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan could effect ongoing efforts in Congress to ease U.S. sanctions against Cuba. Both senators -- Dorgan in particular -- have championed efforts to ease trade and travel restrictions against the communist government and their support would be key in the Senate.
"From an ideological point of view, no senator has been a bigger opponent of U.S. policy than Dodd, and from a business perspective, no one has advocated doing business with the Castro regime more than Dorgan,'' said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, which lobbies in support of the embargo. He noted the pair still has several months left in their tenure, but added, "it's a game changer for 2011.''
Both senators last March introduced legislation that would allow all Americans to travel to Cuba. Dorgan in 2000 authored legislation that opened up agricultural trade with Cuba and has been a major supporter of normalizing relations with the island. Just last month, Dorgan succeeded in softening restrictions on agricultural exports to the island, but complained that another proposal to strip funding to Radio and TV Marti was "emasculated'' and failed to pass.
Sarah Stephens, the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said there's still support in the Senate for easing restrictions. Still, she said, "Our hope is that since it's been such a priority for both of them that maybe there will be an extra effort during this last period of their tenure to make it happen.
"There are a lot in the Senate who want the policy to change, but the ones who have stepped up are the two of them,'' she said.