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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 August, 2004, 05:07 GMT 06:07 UK
US travel curbs force Cuba exodus
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC correspondent in Havana

Relatives hug each other at Havana airport
Cuban Americans must go or face heavy fines
Hundreds of Cuban Americans have been returning to the US, as tough new curbs on travel to Cuba imposed by Washington come into effect on Sunday.

Cuban Americans will only be allowed to go back to the island once every three years instead of once a year.

President George W Bush says the new policy is designed to restrict the flow of money to what he describes as Fidel Castro's repressive regime.

But Havana says the new rules will merely keep families apart.

Controversial move

Havana airport departure lounge was packed with tearful Cuban families getting together for a long, emotional farewell.

Cuban President Fidel Castro speaks in Santa Clara
Castro's government says Bush's policy is cruel

Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousins all wanted to say goodbye to their relatives.

Cuban Americans had been told by the US authorities they had to leave the island by the end of July or face heavy fines.

According to the new Bush administration rules, they cannot now come back for at least three years and then only for two weeks.

The restrictions have proved highly controversial.

Many Cuban Americans, who as a group have traditionally backed a hardline approach against Fidel Castro, have said they cannot support a policy which stops them seeing their families.

In Cuba, mass rallies have been organised against the new measures.

The Cuban government, which itself prevents its people travelling unless with special permission, says President Bush's policy is brutal and cruel.

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Country profile: Cuba
04 Jun 03  |  Country profiles

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