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Some US Lawmakers Push to Ease US Cuba Embargo - 2002-05-15

Forty U.S. lawmakers have unveiled proposals for easing the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba. The recommendations by Democratic and Republican members of Congress came as the Bush administration repeated its view that the embargo on Cuba must remain, and amid new debate about the impact of former President Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba:

Members of the Congressional Cuba Working Group briefed reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference. One of them was Republican Congressman Jeff Flake who focused on one of the major proposals, an end to the ban on travel to Cuba by American citizens.

"There has been too much focus on Fidel Castro. It is Cuba's next generation that will have to decide the future of Cuba. Rather than keep the Cuban people at arms distance, under the pretense of being tough on Fidel Castro, now is the time for America to engage Cuba's next generation," he said.

Democratic Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts put it more bluntly. "Sadly, we have erected our own Berlin Wall, preventing free travel of our own people, and to paraphrase another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, it is time to tear that all down," he said.

Other recommendations in the report include: allowing unsubsidized agricultural and medical exports, settling property claims, enhanced cooperation in regional security and environmental issues and ending restrictions on cash remittances.

Also, doing away with the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which was aimed at stepping up pressure on Fidel Castro.

The Bush administration Wednesday again made clear it has no intention of easing the embargo. "The president will, of course, continue to enforce the embargo against Cuba because he believes it does not help the people of Cuba to trade with Cuba," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "It only gives money to the government, and the government then uses [that] as part of its repression of the people."

Members of the congressional Cuba group praised President Jimmy Carter, whose visit to Cuba ends on Friday. "Thank God for Jimmy Carter. For having the guts to go to Cuba. For standing before the Cuban government and speaking the truth about human rights. I think his trip was worthwhile just for that," said Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern. "I also give him a lot of praise for having the guts to tell the truth about the failure of U.S. policy toward Cuba."

The congressional report also calls for an end to U.S. government-funded television broadcasts to Cuba on TV-Marti. The lawmakers say that money could be put to better use in creating new educational exchange programs between the United States and Cuba.