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Lawmakers Urge Bush Not to Veto Measure Effectively Lifting Ban on Travel to Cuba - 2003-10-29


U.S. lawmakers are urging President Bush not to make good on his threat to veto legislation containing language that would effectively lift the ban on travel to Cuba by Americans. At issue is a measure that would bar the use of government money to enforce the travel ban.

It is contained in House and Senate passed versions of the Transportation and Treasury Departments spending bill. Congressional negotiators must resolve differences in the two bills before final legislation is sent to Mr. Bush, who has vowed to veto the measure if it contains the Cuba travel language.

But many lawmakers, including those in the president's party, argue that the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba has not brought democratic change to the communist-ruled island nation. Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, spoke to reporters Wednesday. "A 40-year policy has demonstrated one thing: it did not work," he said.

Other lawmakers argue that U.S. funds could be better spent fighting terrorism than cracking down on American tourists in Cuba.

The agency responsible for enforcing the travel ban is the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which also works to shut down international financial terrorist networks, and is seeking more money for the job.

Congressman Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said "they need more resources to do it. Instead, they are bleeding off between 10 and 20 percent of their resources to station customs agents in Canada to look for Americans with suntans to basically try to figure out who has been to Cuba and who has not."

Current law allows some travel to Cuba by Americans, particularly scholars and journalists. The Bush administration estimates as many as 200,000 Americans visit Cuba legally each year. But thousands of other Americans travel there illegally, by way of third countries, such as Canada.

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota says a majority of Americans favor lifting the travel ban. That, he says, will make it difficult for President Bush, who has yet to veto a bill, to use that veto power on this measure. "I do not believe the President will want to make the veto of an appropriations bill his first veto simply because the House and Senate, on a bipartisan basis, [have] said this travel ban makes no sense any longer," he said.

But many in the large Cuban-American community in Florida have long pressed the Bush administration to take a tougher approach to the government in Havana, and Florida could be a crucial state for Mr. Bush's re-election bid next year.

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