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U.S. House supports more visits to Cuba

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 10, 2003

WASHINGTON - The House defied a threatened presidential veto Tuesday in moving to lift 4-decade-old restrictions on travel to Cuba. Lawmakers also voted to lift the caps on money that can be sent to Cuban households.

The restriction on visits to Cuba, said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is "not only ineffective, it curbs the basic American freedom to travel and to export American ideals."

The 227-188 vote to open travel to Cuba was not as decisive as a similar vote last year, a reflection of Havana's crackdown on political dissidents in recent months. All four representatives from west-central Florida voted no.

The Cuban measures were part of an $89.3-billion bill to fund the Transportation and Treasury departments in the budget year starting Oct. 1. The bill, passed 381-39, includes a 4.1 percent cost-of-living raise for civilian and military federal employees, an action that in effect also guarantees that members of Congress will receive a 2.2 percent raise to more than $158,000 a year.

The Treasury Department says about 160,000 Americans, half of them Cuban-Americans visiting family members, traveled to Cuba legally last year.

The administration this year proposed new rules to restrict people-to-people educational exchanges, saying there was a need to stop deception by groups whose only purpose was tourism.

Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, who said he had supported the overall travel restrictions in the past, proposed an amendment to stop the administration from enforcing the new tighter rules. The measure passed, 246-173; of the four from west-central Florida, only Davis voted yes.

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