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Saturday, 28 October, 2000, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
US eases Cuba embargo
Havana march
Cuba has mobilised thousands in protest at the bill
US President Bill Clinton has signed into law a bill allowing sales of US food and medicine to Cuba.

The move is being seen as a symbolic first step towards a lifting of US sanctions on the communist island which have been in force for four decades.

Havana, however, says restrictions linked to the legislation would actually tighten the embargo, and has vowed not to buy any American goods on offer under the deal.

President Clinton
Mr Clinton has said the bill could be a "big mistake"
The measures affecting Cuba are part of a $78bn agriculture funding bill passed earlier in October.

They are the result of growing pressure from the American farming and business communities to be allowed access to markets currently excluded by US embargoes.

Travel ban

But Cuban-American members of Congress opposed to Mr Castro succeeded in watering the legislation down.

They introduced restrictions limiting the scope of any sales to the island by preventing financing by the US Government or American banks.

Earlier measures preventing most US citizens from travelling to Cuba were also tightened and written into law.

President Clinton has already expressed unease at the bill, saying he doubts it will make much difference to the economic sanctions imposed on Cuba, because of the lack of any financing credits.

Castro not impressed

Sources in Havana say Cuba needs funding for 80% of its food purchases.

President Castro wants all sanctions against his country lifted and said the new measures would be "impossible in practice".

"They have included a load of restrictions which are humiliating for the country," he said when the US Senate passed the legislation 10 days ago. "They still pretend it is an historic moment."

Other countries which in theory stand to gain from the easing of sanctions are Iran, Libya, North Korea and Sudan. They will be allowed US case-by-case subsidies for such exports.

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See also:

06 Oct 00 | Americas
Clinton worried over eased sanctions
08 Sep 00 | Americas
Clinton shook Castro's hand
21 Jul 00 | Americas
US moves to lift Cuba sanctions
19 Oct 00 | Americas
Castro: The great survivor
26 Jul 00 | Americas
Castro leads anti-embargo march
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