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CHOCO
Dec 16th, 2002, 02:34 PM
U.S. ban on travel to Cuba could end soon
By Mike Williams / Cox News Service
12-16-02

HAVANA, Cuba -- Monday is the one-year anniversary of the first shipment of U.S. goods to Cuba in more than four decades, an event marked by a visiting U.S. congressman who is predicting that restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba could be repealed within the next two years.

"It's time to recognize that this policy that has existed for more than 40 years is an anachronism," said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., co-chairman of the Cuba Working Group, which consists of 23 Republican an 23 Democratic members of Congress. "Conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans -- there is now a critical mass in the U.S. Senate and House to seek a normalization of relations with Cuba."

Pressed by U.S. farmers and agri-businesses, Congress eased the embargo against trade with Cuba in 2000, allowing food and medicine to be sold on the communist island if the Cubans pay cash in advance.

Over the past year, some 850,000 tons of U.S. goods such as Georgia poultry and Midwestern soybeans have arrived at Cuban ports, earning about $170 million for U.S. farmers, said Pedro Alvarez, chairman of Alimport, Cuba's food importing agency.

"Cuba is not deterring American business and investment in Cuba," Alvarez said. "Cuba welcomes it. We hope to see more successes in our bilateral relations in the coming year."

U.S. officials banned all trade with Cuba in the 1960s after Fidel Castro overthrew the island's corrupt government, aligned with the Soviet Union and imposed a communist system. Under intense lobbying from Cuban-American groups who believe that isolation will topple the Castro regime, Congress tightened the restrictions during the Cold War.

Americans are generally banned from spending money in Cuba, a law that prohibits most tourist visits. But the law does allow Cuban-Americans to visit their families and other citizens to travel to Cuba for cultural and educational exchanges.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the end of the Cold War, there has been a growing call for lifting the embargo and travel restrictions. During his visit to Cuba in May -- the first by a sitting or former U.S. President in more than 70 years -- former President Jimmy Carter supported both initiatives.

The Clinton administration encouraged the "people-to-people" exchanges allowed under existing law, and the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba climbed to an estimated 79,000 in 2001, in addition to some 140,000 Cuban-Americans traveling to the island.

In the past two years, however, the Bush administration has stepped up enforcement of the travel restrictions, in a few cases prosecuting people who visited Cuba on their own, without obtaining a license from the U.S. government.

Delahunt, who was joined at his Havana press conference Saturday by former Arizona Democratic Sen. Dennis DeConcini, blasted the travel ban, noting that Americans are allowed to visit North Korea, a country labeled as part of the "Axis of Evil" by the Bush Administration.

"It's becoming clear as more and more Americans come here that the travel restrictions are hypocritical," Delahunt said, noting that opinion polls show most Americans want an end to the restrictions and the embargo.

President Bush has promised to veto any legislation easing Cuba policies until the island holds free democratic elections, but Delahunt said he believes the travel restrictions could pass with a two-thirds vote in Congress, meaning any Bush veto attempt would fail.

Although optimistic about the prospects for change, Delahunt stopped short of predicting that Congress would lift the embargo completely in the near future. But he outlined several proposals that the bipartisan Cuba Working Group hopes to pass in the coming year or two.

Those include easing restrictions on travel and remittances sent by Cuban-American families to their Cuban relatives; expanding cooperation on security issues and drug interdiction; the promotion of educational

scholarships to encourage more "people to people" exchanges and a review of the effectiveness of the U.S. government's Radio and TV-Marti, which are intended to broadcast U.S. news and views to Cuba.

The group also hopes to pass a bill that would call for the expiration of the 1996 Libertad Act, more popularly known as the "Helms-Burton Act," which tightened the embargo's restrictions.

DeConcini, who now works with a group called the Alliance for a Responsible Cuba Policy, said he believes the tides of U.S. opinion toward Cuba are shifting.

"I've not always been optimistic about the improvement of our relations, but with this working group in Congress, people are speaking through the Congress to say that enough is enough," he said.


Mike Williams is Latin American correspondent for Cox Newspapers.

CHOCO
Dec 16th, 2002, 06:56 PM
It's a matter of time before people from the states can visit Cuba when they want. I have a friend who went to Cuba through Mexico. She had a fine time there. I might take that chance next year. ;)

Scotso
Dec 16th, 2002, 07:42 PM
Cuba is supposed to be really beautiful. I had a professor who went via Barbados.

I don't think the government has any business telling people where they can and cannot travel.

CHOCO
Dec 16th, 2002, 07:52 PM
joy - is it out of St. Louis? I was on the verge of going four years ago when this cultural group fron the Bay area was sold to a group from St. Louis. From what I've read, they are very good.

CHOCO
Dec 16th, 2002, 11:12 PM
Defintely I know who Assata is! :) She's been in Cuba for about 20 years now. I recommend that you pick up the cd of hottest rap group from Cuba called Los Orishas. Don't be suprised if they win a Grammy for their lastest cd. I bought it immediately when I was in Spain this summer. It is off the hook!!!


BTW, I'm a Cuban music fanatic, especially the dance music or salsa from Cuba.