US Senate panel votes to lift Cuba travel ban
By ANDREW TAYLOR
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican-controlled Senate panel has voted to lift
a decades-long U.S. ban on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President
Barack Obama's moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations
with the Castro-governed nation.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to block enforcement of a
law prohibiting banks and other U.S. businesses from financing sales of
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.
The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly ease
travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for
the first time. The Senate Appropriations Committee 18-12 vote comes
just days after the U.S. and Cuba formally ended more than a
half-century of estrangement by re-establishing diplomatic relations cut
off during the Cold War.
"We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people
have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with
them," said sponsor Jerry Moran, a Republican. "I also would say that as
Americans we have certain freedoms that we cherish, and Americans can
travel around the globe today without exception — no country is totally
prohibited with the exception of Cuba."
The House Appropriations Committee has moved in the opposite direction,
but the intra-party disagreement among Republicans makes it far less
likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will try to use spending
bills to challenge Obama's rapprochement with Cuba.
The House provision would block new rules issued in January that would
significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly
scheduled flights for the first time.
The Senate language goes beyond the administration rules, which lifted a
requirement that U.S. travelers obtain a license from the Treasury
Department before travelling to Cuba. Instead, all that is required is
for travelers to assert that their trip would serve educational,
religious or other permitted purposes.
"Positive change in Cuba will take time," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a
Democrat. "But it will come not as a result of stubborn nostalgia by a
vociferous few for the Batista years, but by visiting Cuba, listening to
the Cuban people, and engaging with them." Fulgencio Batista was Cuba's
dictator before he was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959.
The hospitality industry and other business sectors are still blocked
from doing business in Cuba. Marriot International President Arne
Sorenson just returned from Cuba and is representative of many companies
eager to do business there, especially as more Americans travel to the
"With travel to Cuba now surging, existing Cuban hotels are full and
hotel companies from other countries are racing to tie up as many of the
new hotels as they can before the likes of Marriott and our U.S.
competitors show up," Sorenson said.
The panel's votes reflect growing sentiment, even among some Republican
conservatives, to ease the five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and
travel restrictions to the island, which have failed to move the Castro
regime toward democracy.
"After nearly 60 years, we might try something different," Moran said.
The panel also voted to lift restrictions on vessels that have shipped
goods to Cuba from returning to the U.S. until six months have passed.
The Cuba legislation was added to a $21 billion measure funding the
Treasury Department, which enforces the longstanding trade embargo.
Source: US Senate panel votes to lift Cuba travel ban - Yahoo News -