Cubans celebrate US trade restriction reversal

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Cubans celebrated on Wednesday after the US Congress passed a Bill that would ease some travel and trade restrictions against the socialist country.

The Bill includes provisions making it easier to sell agricultural and medical goods to Cuba.

It undoes some Bush administration rules that toughened the 47-year-old US blockade against Cuba, a cold war-era policy which has cost Havana over $100 billion (£73bn) in lost trade and investment.

The Bill, which US President Barack Obama must still sign into law, would also allow Cuban US citizens to visit the island annually, instead of once every three years as the Bush government mandated.

They could also stay longer than the current two weeks.

It would also permit marketers and sellers of agricultural and medical products, which are exempted from the embargo, to travel more easily to Cuba.

On Tuesday, a south American defence ministers' meeting in Chile urged Washington to lift the "discriminatory and unjust" blockade entirely.

Brazilian defence minister Nelson Jobim said: "A key element for the US to have a better relationship with south America is a change in its policy toward Cuba."

Uruguay defence minister Jose Bayardi added that, while Cuba may have threatened US security during the cold war, "it now poses no risk whatsoever."

And Argentinian defence minister Nilda Garre described scrapping the blockade as a "pending issue in our region."

"Today, we see favourable conditions with the new president in the United States to put an end to this discriminatory and unjust situation," Ms Garre said.

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