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US bill aims to ease Cuba travel

Barack Obama on 20 February
President Obama has indicated US policy on Cuba will change

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that should lead to the easing of restrictions on Cuban-Americans wanting to travel to Cuba.

The provisions are part of a spending bill and must pass in the Senate - where it faces some opposition - before it becomes law.

The bill would allow Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba once a year instead of once every three years.

Meanwhile France has sent a former Socialist minister as envoy to Cuba.

Embargo moves

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The measures announced in the US bill represent a first move in broader efforts to ease the US trade embargo and end travel restrictions for all Americans.

President Obama has said that the trade embargo against Cuba should stay in place as it increases pressure for democratic reforms.

However, under the bill, Cuban Americans should be able to spend $170 a day on the island, more than three times the current daily limit of $50.

It also creates a general travel licence for Americans who sell food and medical supplies to Cuba.

As well, it should allow the Cuban authorities to pay for US products once they arrive rather than pay up front before they are sent, a move which some analysts say could boost rice sales to Cuba.

Francisco Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, welcomed the news.

"We have been asking for that since the [travel] restrictions were put in place," he said.

"We believe there should be more opportunities for Cuban families to connect."

But Mr Hernandez and others fear the bill could run into trouble in the Senate.

Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez opposes the changes and may try to stop the bill.

Rapprochement?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has sent Jack Lang, a former culture minister, to Cuba in an effort to strengthen ties with President Raul Castro.

Last year the European Union voted to lift sanctions on Cuba, sanctions which were imposed after the arrest of alleged government opponents in 2003.

Their removal followed the departure of Fidel Castro, who had ruled Cuba for nearly 50 years, and his replacement by his brother Raul.

"We thought it was the right time to reinvigorate French-Cuban relations, at a time when the European Union has resumed dialogue with Cuba, when Cuba is evolving slowly, too slowly perhaps, when the United States themselves are thinking about their position on Cuba," an official in the President's office said of Mr Lang's trip.

Mr Lang was culture minister in the 1980s, under President Francois Mitterrand, who had close ties with Fidel Castro.



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