Congress set to ease travel restrictions to Cuba

The Miami HeraldFebruary 25, 2009 

The 1,128-page budget bill that will begin to work its way through Congress this week contains key paragraphs that alter the shape of U.S.-Cuba policy and ease Cuba family travel restrictions by not funding enforcement.

The provisions were written when the bill was drafted last year –and faced the threat of a veto by President George W. Bush. But Washington's new White House resident, President Barack Obama, campaigned promising to lift the family restrictions, so the proposed changes are unlikely to meet much resistance by the administration, which is conducting its own review of Cuba policy.

The bill, which is expected to be voted on by the House on Wednesday, already has Cuban-American lawmakers balking.

The 2009 budget bill would:

• Prevent the U.S. government from spending any of its budget enforcing 2004 rules that keep Cuban Americans from visiting their homeland more than once every three years.

• Create a general travel license for Americans who sell food and medical supplies to Cuba.

• Let Cuba pay for the American produce it buys when the products arrive in Havana. Current law forces Cuba to pay up front before products leave U.S. ports.

• Require the U.S. Treasury Department to issue a report showing how much of its staff and funding is spent on enforcing the ban on travel to Cuba.

Amendments were added by Rep. Jose E. Serrano, a New York Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. That means he controls the Treasury Department's purse strings – and it's the Treasury that investigates people who violate the Cuba travel ban.

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