By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. business group
Tuesday urged the House to quickly approve a
bill that chips away at the U.S. embargo on Cuba by ending
decades of restrictions on travel to the island.
"It is time to end the unproductive preoccupation with an
aging and moribund Communist regime, and begin to lay the
groundwork for a U.S. role in the future of Cuba," the Chamber
of Commerce's chief lobbyist, Bruce Josten, said in a letter to
leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 in June to
approve a bill lifting the decades-old ban on travel to Cuba
and to remove hurdles to food sales to the Caribbean island.
The chamber urged the House Foreign Affairs Committee to
approve the legislation when lawmakers return from their recess
in mid-September so the full House can vote on the bill.
The Senate would have to approve the measure for it become
law. But the Senate has opponents of loosening travel
restrictions while Cuba's present government is in power, and
Senate rules allow a single senator to use procedural hurdles
to delay and sometimes block legislation.
Senators Byron Dorgan and Mike Enzi, who support lifting
the travel ban, have said they have the votes to pass such a
bill. It takes 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles in the
U.S. business and advocacy groups have said they expect
President Barack Obama to issue an executive order to relax
travel restrictions to Cuba for some Americans.
The small steps would make it easier for groups of
Americans to once again go to the Communist island as part of
academic, cultural or religious exchanges, as thousands of them
did during the Clinton administration, a congressional aide
told Reuters last week.
Completely lifting the travel ban would require an act of
Congress, something that supporters of the embargo have been
able to thwart in the past.
In a letter last week to Obama, Representative Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, and four other Cuban-American lawmakers underscored
their opposition to loosening travel restrictions.
"We are deeply troubled that such changes would result in
economic benefits to the Cuban regime and would significantly
undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives," the
It also included Senator Robert Menendez and Representative
Albio Sires, both New Jersey Democrats, as well as
Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, both
The letter from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came as the
Catholic Church in Cuba said it expected the Cuban government
to soon release another six political prisoners with the
condition that they go to Spain, bringing the total to 32 in
Under an agreement reached in June with the Catholic
Church, the Cuban government is expected to release 20 more
dissidents imprisoned by the island's Communist government in a
2003 crackdown against opponents.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Stacey