House Considering Easing Cuba Restrictions

The House is taking up proposals to ease U.S. policies toward Cuba but President Bush is expected to have his veto pen ready if anti-embargo lawmakers get their way.

Several amendments were expected to go to the House floor on Tuesday. The one given the best chance was a proposal to eliminate travel restrictions to the island. A similar measure was approved 240-186 last year.

"We ought to allow Americans to spread our culture and our values among Cubans," Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said. "They are our best ambassador."

Sally Grooms Cowal, president of the anti-embargo Cuba Policy Foundation, agreed that easing travel curbs would help plant democratic seeds in Cuba.

"You can't underestimate the impact of a large number of Americans visiting Cuba," she said.

The administration seems resigned to defeat on one or more of the proposed amendments, but officials do not believe current policy will be overturned. President Bush has said he will veto any moderation of the Cuba policy.

Wayne Smith, an anti-embargo former diplomat, predicted that the votes will show national support for the embargo is far weaker than many believe.

"The votes will show the direction in which things are going," Smith said.

A senior official said the administration believes the votes are coming at a time when Cuban President Fidel Castro least deserves U.S. accommodation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Castro has spurned a grass-roots democracy initiative, been less than helpful in the war on terrorism and has compared Bush to Adolf Hitler.

The House also is expected to take up amendments to lift restrictions on remittances to Cuba and end a ban on credit sales of food to Cuba. Cash-only sales have been legal since 2000.

A fourth amendment would prohibit the administration from using its resources to enforce the 40-year old U.S. embargo against Cuba. Congressional sources said this proposal, whose chief sponsor is Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is given the least chance of winning House approval.

The amendments would be attached to an appropriations bill for the Treasury Department and the U.S. Postal Service.

Meanwhile, a study sponsored by the anti-embargo Center for International Policy said if Congress legalizes travel to Cuba, it would mean an additional $415 million bonanza for the U.S. airline industry.

Dennis Hays, a vice president at the pro-embargo Cuban-American National Foundation, dismissed the study's conclusions.

He said the number of Americans taking vacations would remain largely the same, meaning little net gain for the airlines. The only differences would be that Americans would be choosing Cuba as a destination instead of other vacation options.

Hays said dollar-bearing American tourists would help ease Cuba's worsening economic situation.

"What Flake and others want to do is give this guy (Castro) a gift," said Hays.

Meanwhile, Bush was expected to keep in place a prohibition barring Americans from suing people or companies who now control property in Cuba confiscated from the Americans.

A 1996 law gives Americans the right to sue anyone who uses property confiscated by the Cuban revolution. It also gives the president authority to waive enforcement of the ban.

The measure has been waived at six month intervals since 1996 by Presidents Clinton and Bush. A White House announcement on the latest waiver was expected on Tuesday.

While Cuban-Americans generally oppose the waiver policy, European countries support it because Europeans have the most investments on the island. They see the law as a U.S. attempt to impose its Cuba policy on others.