Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 00:13 UK

US senators urge end to Cuba ban

Fidel Castro (image released 4 March 2009)
Fidel Castro may be seeing more Americans in Cuba in future

A bipartisan group of US senators has introduced a bill that would allow US citizens to travel freely to Cuba.

The US has imposed trade and travel bans on Cuba since 1962, but Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said this policy had "failed for 50 years".

Mr Dorgan, one of the bill's sponsors, said he believed it would win enough votes in the US Congress to pass.

But Republican Mel Martinez said the US should support pro-democracy activists, not "the Castro regime".

Mr Dorgan's bill is co-sponsored by senior Republican Senator Richard Lugar.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives - also with support from members of both parties.

Call for change

At present, the US only allows its citizens to go to Cuba if they are journalists, government officials or on a humanitarian mission. Students or people wanting to visit close relatives can also apply for special licences.

But the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says calls have been growing for a change in policy.

Business and farm groups, in particular, want to sell into the Cuban market.

And the Obama administration has already supported changes making it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit or send money.

The US began imposing restrictions on Cuba after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, making it the only Communist state in the Americas - and a Cold War flashpoint.

His younger brother, Raul, formally took over the presidency from him in February last year.

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