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US Lawmakers Call for End to Cuba Travel Ban - 2003-05-14


A group of bi-partisan U.S. lawmakers has introduced a bill calling for an end to the U.S. ban on travel by Americans to Cuba. In the wake of a recent crackdown on dissidents in Cuba, the lawmakers argue that engagement, rather than isolation, is the best way to bring change to the Communist-ruled Caribbean nation.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro's recent crackdown on dissidents is prompting lawmakers to call for a reassessment of the U.S. embargo against Cuba imposed more than four decades ago.

"The recent crackdown proved beyond any doubt that if U.S policy is designed to help the Cuban people, it is a total failure," said Congressman William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat.

In March, in a bid to stamp out opposition to President Castro, Cuba rounded up 75 dissidents and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 28 years.

Congressman Delahunt and other lawmakers are re-introducing legislation that would lift a U.S. ban on travel to Cuba by American citizens.

Congressman Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and Chairman of the House Working Group on Cuba, says allowing Americans to bring their American ideals to the communist-ruled island nation is the best way to affect change there.

"Right now Cubans only hear one voice, that is Fidel Castro's. All they know is what they want them to hear, and he currently has complete control there. By allowing ordinary Americans to travel to Cuba, we will surely export freedom there," he said.

The House has previously approved a lifting of the travel ban, but the legislation never made it to the Senate floor. But supporters believe prospects for Senate action have improved in recent months, as relations between Havana and Washington have deteriorated.

This week, the United States expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for allegedly spying. Earlier this year, the Bush administration curbed travel to Cuba by Americans involved in educational programs.

The actions criticized by some lawmakers, including Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat.

"It is regrettable that the administration has taken actions which seem to go in the wrong direction, which seem to exacerbate tensions between our two countries," he said.

Politically influential Cuban Americans, many of whom believe President Bush owes his presidency to their votes in Florida, have long pressed the administration to tighten the trade embargo and travel restrictions against Cuba. Their support will be crucial to Mr. Bush's re-election effort next year.

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