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U.S. Congressional Bill Introduced to Allow Unfettered Travel to Cuba

By Liza Gross and Frances Robles, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

February 11, 2009 - A bipartisan bill that would open the door to unfettered travel to Cuba was introduced in Congress last week, in the hopes that recent political changes in Washington will spill over to U.S. policy toward the island.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, introduced Feb. 4 and referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, prohibits the U.S. president from regulating or prohibiting travel to or from Cuba by U.S. residents, except in times of war between the two countries or of imminent danger to public health or the safety of U.S. travelers.

It was introduced by a group of representatives led by William Delahunt, D-Mass.

The bill or amendments like it have become a staple in Washington, where the measures flopped in the face of veto threats. Last year, a similar bill had more than 100 sponsors. But with more Democrats in Congress and a new president -- one who has vowed to lift some of former President George W. Bush's restrictions on Cuban family travel -- the climate could be different.

'VETO THREAT IS GONE'

"It's too early to tell how this will do because Congress is dealing with the economic package, but I think the conditions are good for it," said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute think tank who supports changes to Cuba policy. "The veto threat is gone and Obama has signaled that he is interested in revamping policy. I am not making any predictions, but is it a bill that gets introduced every year and has no chance? No."

During his campaign, President Barack Obama said that he would roll back Bush's restrictions on travel to Cuba. Under Bush's policy, Cuban Americans can send up to $300 in cash every three months and are allowed to visit once every three years, although they can send gift packages of food, medicine and other items. Bush also tightened the restrictions on visits by academics, students and religious groups.

Americans with no family in Cuba generally cannot visit, and Obama's campaign statement was unclear as to whether the easing of travel restrictions will apply to them. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act would go further than Obama's promise by explicitly empowering U.S. citizens and legal residents to visit the island at will.

'MORE EDUCATED'

"This seeks to open the door to tourism travel," said Mauricio Claver Carone, a lobbyist who supports the embargo and limits on travel. "This is the same bill that's introduced every year and goes absolutely nowhere, and I don't expect this one to go anywhere either. People have become more educated to the fact that there is tourism in Cuba from all over the world, and it has done nothing to bring change to Cuba."

Other sponsors of the bill include Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Rosa Delauro, D-Conn.; Jo-Ann Emerson, R-Mo.; James McGovern, D-Mass.; Jim Moran, R-Kansas; Donna Edwards, D-Md.; Ron Paul, R-Texas; and Sam Farr, D-Calif.

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Miami Herald

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