Iraq war veteran refused permission to visit his ill son in Cuba

Campaign News | Thursday, 30 June 2005

Senate rejects attempt to ease travel ban

Wednesday, June 29,WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday rejected a proposal to ease American travel restrictions to Cuba that would have allowed a Cuban-American veteran of the Iraq war to visit his ill son.

A majority of senators supported the idea to open travel to Cuba when humanitarian concerns were at play, voting 60-35 for the measure, but under a Senate agreement, two-thirds of senators, or 67, were needed to win passage of the measure.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, proposed the legislation, attached to an unrelated spending bill, to help Sgt. Carlos Lazo travel to Havana to visit his 16-year-old son. It would also have helped others in Lazo's situation.

Dorgan said it was unforgivable that an Iraq war veteran was being barred from visiting his sick son.

Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, countered that it was "a good thing" that hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars were not flowing into Cuba because of travel restrictions.

Lazo, who fled Cuba on a raft in 1992, according to an aide to Dorgan, was deployed to Iraq in March, 2004. The decorated soldier returned to the United States last June.

Last year, the Bush administration tightened rules on travel to Cuba, allowing people to visit from the United States once every three years instead of annually. The move was meant to cut U.S. dollars being spent in Cuba, which has been subjected to U.S. economic sanctions for more than 40 years.

Under the rule, Lazo will not be able to travel to Cuba until April, 2006.

In a telephone interview with Reuters from Seattle, where he is now stationed, Lazo said he still held out hope that the U.S. House of Representatives would come to his aid.

He said his son, who has been suffering from high fevers that might be related to a bacterial infection or meningitis, was being sent home from the hospital so he can get a more nutritious diet while continuing on medication.

Before his amendment was defeated, Dorgan said the opposition was "all about Florida politics. Everybody in this chamber knows it."

Florida has been an important state to President Bush in the past two presidential elections. It has a large, conservative Cuban-American community that wants to maintain strict sanctions against Cuban President Fidel Castro.

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