Panel in US Congress moves on ending ban on US travel to Cuba

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The Independent Online

A bill to end the effective ban on US nationals' travel to Cuba, and allow Havana to buy US goods on credit, moved through a legislative panel Wednesday with a long way to go before it could take effect.

The bill was passed in the House agriculture committee.

It would among other things, end the effective travel ban for US nationals; allow communist Cuba to use credit for purchases of US farm goods currently paid for only in cash; and allow direct transfers between US and Cuban financial institutions.

Now it still must make its way through additional commissions before a potential House vote.

The United States has had an economic embargo clamped on Havana for nearly five decades.

But it has not been the undoing of the Americas' only one-party communist regime, still in place now under President Raul Castro after his brother Fidel Castro led Cuba for more than 40 years.

The bill is not seeking to end the full US embargo trade sanctions in place since 1962. But their importance has eroded to the point of empty rhetoric and insignificance.

The United States today is a key Cuban trade partner, selling hundreds of millions in farm goods a year, despite what the Cuban government likes to call "crippling" US sanctions.

Americans technically are allowed to visit Cuba, but they are required to seek special US government permission to go, and if they get it have a limit on how much they may spend in Cuba.

Those who seek the permits usually are US sports team members, artists or academics. Exceptions however are made for Cuban-Americans who are visiting relatives; different rules apply to their cases.

Thousands of Americans visit Cuba every year without US permission. When they do they are legally barred from spending money on the island, an effective travel ban. But back at home they are rarely prosecuted for their rule-breaking unless they flaunt their defiance of the rules.

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.

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