Key US lawmakers: 'Scrap' Cuba travel ban

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The United States should "scrap" a ban on its citizens travelling to Cuba, two key US lawmakers said Tuesday, blaming the policy for hampering Washington's efforts to promote democratic reforms there.

"US law lets American citizens travel to any country on earth, friend or foe - with one exception: Cuba. It's time for us to scrap this anachronistic ban, imposed during one of the chilliest periods of the Cold War," said Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Democratic Congressman Howard Berman.

Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Berman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, noted that legislation to overturn the ban has been introduced in both chambers of the US Congress.

The lawmakers charged that the travel ban, imposed in the aftermath of the 1959 Cuban revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power, had hurt US efforts to promote democratic reforms in the socialist-run island.

The travel ban "has left Washington an isolated bystander, watching events on the island unfold at a distance," they said, and "isolation from outside visitors only strengthens the Castro regime."

Ending the restrictions would allow US citizens, "who serve as ambassadors for the democratic values we hold dear," visit the island and would "help break Havana's choke hold" on information, they said.

It would burnish the US image worldwide, but especially in Latin America "where the US embargo on Cuba remains a centerpiece of anti-Washington grievances," the lawmakers wrote in the Miami Herald.

The fate of the legislation to repeal the ban is unclear - staunch anti-Castro lawmakers can be expected to mount a tough fight against such measures, which they say will be seen as a reward for human rights abuses.