Legislation to relax blockade introduced

Campaign News | Friday, 26 January 2007

Democrat-controlled Congress moves to relax travel ban

Legislation to chip away at the Bush administration's hard-line Cuba policy is in the works in the House, where Republicans and Democrats are planning a variety of measures aimed at easing the U.S. policy on Cuba.

The first bill, which would lift the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, was introduced yesterday by Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

The Cuban economic embargo, which dates to the 1960s, allows cash sales only for food, medicine and medical equipment and restricts travel to the island.

U.S. citizens are generally barred from travel to Cuba without a specific license, although there are exceptions for working journalists, researchers and some others. Permits for visits to immediate family members in Cuba may be issued every three years.

The measures to ease the policy will be filed as stand-alone legislation or as amendments to appropriations bills or other legislation.

Mr. Flake, who introduced his bill with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, said that nearly 50 years of the current policy have "done little" to bring democracy to Cuba.

Instead of aiding democratic reform, the policy has given Cuban President Fidel Castro "a convenient scapegoat for his own regime's failures," Mr. Flake said.

Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat, plans legislation to ease restrictions on Cuban-American family travel.

Other possibilities include legislation to ease payment restrictions for cash sales of food to Cuba.

Rep. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, is planning to introduce one such payment-regulation bill next week. He said Wednesday that stand-alone Cuba legislation is more likely to reach the House floor now than under Republican leadership, partly because Republican leaders were adamantly opposed to dealings with Cuba.

President Bush's continuing tough stance toward Havana, however, means that a full-scale lifting of the Cuba embargo could encounter a veto threat.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, who plans to co-sponsor Mr. Moran's proposal, said that Congress may be able to make some changes in the Cuba policy, but that even with a new Democratic majority, any such changes would be "pretty incremental."


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