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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Members of the House of Representatives have moved a symbolic step closer to lifting the US embargo on Cuba"
 real 28k

Friday, 21 July, 2000, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
US moves to lift Cuba sanctions
cubans
Sanctions hit ordinary Cubans and not Fidel Castro
The US House of Representatives has backed a further easing of the sanctions against Cuba that have been in force for the past 38 years.

The House voted to lift some restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba, and to exempt food and medicine from its trade embargo.

Both changes were fiercely opposed by Republican Party leaders, but supported by politicians from farm-dominated states and by conservatives who argued that more contact with the US would promote democracy in Cuba.

Easing sanctions
Travel restrictions eased
Limits removed on medicine sales
Increased food sales
Charter flights increased
Direct postal service
Athletic and scientific exchanges
US citizens allowed to send cash
The vote will have no immediate effect, and the House may yet modify its own proposals.

But the Senate approved a separate agriculture spending bill on Thursday that would permit food and medical sales to Cuba.

And the BBC Washington correspondent Stephen Sackur says there does appear to be a shift in the American consensus on Cuba.

This was apparent in the national debate on six-year-old Elian Gonzalez, with most Americans apparently in agreement that it was right for the castaway to be returned to his father in Cuba.

Our correspondent says many Americans believe it is now time for a major reassessment of Washington's relations with Havana.

meat market
Many foods are rationed in Cuba
Cuban officials heaped scorn on the concessions when they were first announced last month, saying that in practice they would have no effect on bilateral relations.

They pointed out that, by specifically ruling out sales from Cuba to the United States, the deal would do little to help the struggling Cuban economy.

Sales of medicine to Cuba have anyway been allowed since 1992 with some restrictions.

Good for business

Washington imposed full economic sanctions against Cuba in 1962, three years after the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Critics say the main victims have hit Cuba's poor and sick.

President Fidel Castro
Castro: Sanctions were an attempt to isolate him
The latest vote is also being seen as a major victory for farm, business and other groups working to ease the sanctions.

Many supporters of an easing of sanctions have argued that increased contacts between the US and Cuba would help to weaken President Castro's hold on power.

"Ronald Reagan allowed Americans with backpacks to travel in eastern Europe, and it did help bring down the Berlin Wall," said Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina.

Many also question the logic of maintaining a total embargo on Cuba while the US is engaged in a burgeoning trade relationship with Communist China.

Opposition

But the eventual lifting of sanctions on Cuba is certain to face stiff opposition from Cuban-American politicians, who succeeded in defeating a similar measure last year in the House of Representatives.

Anti-Castro legislators have argued that allowing Cuba to receive more US trade and tourists would help prop up his regime.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said the revenue that Cuba would gain from easing the restrictions would help "the worst violator of human rights in all of the western hemisphere".

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See also:

28 Jun 00 | Americas
US deal to end Cuba sanctions
19 Jun 00 | Middle East
US rebrands its rogues gallery
27 Jul 99 | Americas
Castro urges anti-drug pact with US
05 Jan 99 | Americas
US improves Cuba links
29 Jul 99 | Americas
Cuba vaccine deal breaks embargo
23 Jul 99 | Americas
Cuban human rights record attacked
01 Jan 99 | Americas
Cuba - the struggle goes on
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