Group of Senators Seeks to Lift Cuba Travel Limits

Jan 31, 2015 by

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Group of Senators Seeks to Lift Cuba Travel Limits

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
JAN. 29, 2015

A bipartisan group of senators spoke in support of a bill that would remove a ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, in light of President Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced legislation to permanently lift all restrictions on American travel to Cuba — the first step in what will be a pitched congressional battle over how far the United States should go in expanding trade and tourism with the Communist island nation.

The bill, the first Cuba-related measure to be introduced since President Obama announced in December that he was normalizing relations with the country, would not end the 54-year-old trade embargo. Backers say ending the embargo is unlikely in a Republican-controlled Congress, given stiff opposition by party leaders and lawmakers of Cuban-American heritage.

But it would allow ordinary tourism to Cuba for the first time in more than half a century, and remove banking restrictions related to travel. Cuba is the only country in the world to which the United States bans visits from tourists though there have long been exceptions to the ban and Americans have also found creative ways to get around it.

“We have tried this current policy — we have prohibited travel for about 50 years and it hasn’t worked,” said Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, the lead sponsor of the measure. “And so it’s time for something new. It’s time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba.”

Mr. Obama already has made expansive use of his executive authority to relax decades-old limits on travel to Cuba; under regulations issued two weeks ago, most Americans traveling to the island will no longer have to apply for specific licenses or get permission from a government agency in advance.

But the president’s authority goes only so far; even if United States airlines begin offering regular service to Cuba — as some are already making plans to do — travelers will still be required to certify that their visits are for religious, humanitarian, journalistic, educational, family or other approved reasons. It will take an act of Congress to fully repeal the travel ban.

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