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Study Says Travel To Cuba Could Benefit US Economy - 2002-06-25

Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are keeping up pressure on the Bush administration to change its policy toward Cuba. Members of the Congressional Cuba working group have released results of a study showing the U.S. economy would benefit if American citizens could freely travel to Cuba.

A repeal of the prohibition on travel to Cuba is one of nine policy changes recommended by the congressional Cuba group, comprising 44 Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

At a Capitol Hill news conference, Republican Congressman Flake announced what he calls the Bringing Freedom to Cuba Through Travel Act. Mr. Flake says his general support of the Bush administration on most foreign policy issues stops when it comes to Cuba.

"I believe the Cuba travel ban is an unwarranted intrusion on the right of American citizens," he said. "It criminalizes normal and constructive behavior and closes off a powerful source of American influence in Cuba."

Lawmakers opposing the travel ban are pointing to a new study detailing benefits to the U.S. economy if the ban were lifted.

The study was commissioned by the Cuba Policy Foundation, a lobby group supporting an end to the U.S. economic embargo.

According to the study, an immediate lifting of the U.S. embargo would result in 12,000 new jobs and nearly $2 billion in additional income after five years.

Ed Sanders is one of the authors of the study and says ending the travel ban would result in a significant increase in American travel to Cuba. "2.8 million additional Americans would travel to Cuba by the fifth year," he said. "Half of those would be diverted from other destinations, so the net increase in travel to the Caribbean region because of elimination of the embargo would mean about 1.4 million more Americans traveling."

Members of the Cuba working group point to opinion polls showing growing public support for lifting the travel ban and eventually the economic embargo.

Democrat William Delahunt of Massachusetts says there is "a deep and profound revulsion" toward the travel ban among Americans in general, and Cuban-Americans in particular.

"Most Americans share the viewpoint that the right to travel is one of our core fundamental constitutional principles," he said. "And a restriction such as this, and there is incident, after incident, after incident, is repugnant to everything we proclaim to be about as a democracy."

President Bush has said he has no intention of easing the U.S. embargo on Cuba. His statement in May followed a high profile visit to Havana by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

Congressional advocates of ending the travel ban say money the U.S. government spends trying to crack down on Americans visiting Cuba illegally could be better spent on fighting the war against terrorism.