US embargo on Cuba eased

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The Independent US

The US Senate gave final congressional approval Wednesday to a bill modestly easing the trade embargo on Cuba and providing $3.6 billion in disaster assistance and other election-year aid to American farmers.

The US Senate gave final congressional approval Wednesday to a bill modestly easing the trade embargo on Cuba and providing $3.6 billion in disaster assistance and other election-year aid to American farmers.

President Bill Clinton has agreed to sign the $78 billion agricultural spending bill, which also will allow the import of U.S.-made prescription drugs that are sold more cheaply abroad.

The bill, which the Senate approved 86-8, would allow sales of food to Cuba for the first time in four decades, but the move is largely symbolic, because it bars the federal government or U.S. banks from financing the shipments.

Farm groups that are eager to trade with Cuba say the legislation is a start.

"Hopefully, it will be a step toward a broader opening," said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, an Arkansas Republican whose state's farmers hope to sell rice to Cuba.

But even as the Senate was preparing the vote on the bill, hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched in Havana in protest of the legislation. The Communist Party daily Granma called the bill a "gross lie that the genocidal blockade has been softened."

Democrats called the Cuba measure a "step backward," both because of the financial limits and because it would bar Clinton or his successor from easing restrictions on travel to Cuba.

"The hard-liners won out on the Cuba issue," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat. "Why should farmers not have access to that market in Cuba?"

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas conceded that the bill was unlikely to result in many sales.

The legislation also aims to increase sales of food and medicine to Iran, Libya, North Korea and Sudan by allowing U.S. subsidies for such exports.

Democrats also criticized the bill's drug-import provision, contending it was so full of loopholes that it would result in little savings to consumers.

But Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont Republican who has championed the issue, said he thought the legislation was "strong and workable," even better than an earlier version that Democrats supported.

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