U.S. lawmakers seek to change Cuba travel, shipping rules

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2015 11:12 AM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic senators were to introduce amendments to a Senate bill on Thursday that would end some major U.S. restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The measures being put forward at the Senate Appropriations Committee, if approved, would be the first legislation to make it through any congressional committee to facilitate President Barack Obama's push to normalize relations with Cuba.

Republican Senator Jerry Moran was to introduce an amendment to the Senate Financial Services appropriations bill to end the prohibition on most U.S. citizens' travel to the Communist-ruled island.

Republican Senator John Boozman was preparing to offer an amendment to change current law prohibiting Americans from providing credit for the sale of U.S. agricultural commodities.

His measure would allow private financing, so sales of agricultural commodities by U.S. exporters do not have to be paid in cash.

Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat, was due to offer an amendment eliminating a law barring any ship that has docked in Cuba from loading or unloading any freight in the United States for 180 days.

The amendments all have bipartisan support and backers say they are expected to pass in committee.

By introducing the measures as amendments to the larger appropriations bill, the proposers intend to make them more difficult to block. If they are adopted by the committee, the full Senate would have to reject the entire financial services bill to stop them.

To become law, a version of the bill with the amendments also would have to pass the House of Representatives, which would be more likely if it draws strong support in the Senate.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 that they had agreed to move toward normal relations between the former Cold War foes for the first time in half a century.

As part of the push, Cuba opened its embassy in Washington on Monday as the countries restored diplomatic relations.

But the broader, half-century-old U.S. trade embargo remains in place and only Congress can lift it - something majority Republicans are unlikely to do.

Despite that, lawmakers, including many from states with significant agriculture or shipping business like Moran's Kansas, Boozman's Arkansas and Tester's Montana, have pushed to ease the restrictions.

But such moves have run into stiff opposition from high-profile Cuban-American lawmakers backed by the Republican leaders of the Senate and House.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by David Storey and Bill Trott)