A congressional committee has voted to lift the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba. The House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 to allow travel to the island and to expand U.S. exports there.
Though the vote is only a first step toward Congressional approval of the changes, supporters view it as a significant step towards rebuilding trade and travel relations between the countries.
The end of the Cuba travel ban would mean a bonanza in tourism to the island at a time when Fidel and Raúl Castro are in desperate need of new revenue streams. But some argue that Cuba’s isolation preserves the dictatorship and that a flood of gringo tourists would weaken it.
Similar measures have failed in Senate in recent years and State Department spokesman would not say whether the Obama administration would support the legislation.
The bill, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, must still go through the Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees before it can be considered by the full House. Then the Senate would have to act.
Proponents of the bill said it would be a major boost for American trade.
“This is a great opportunity to expand trade,” said Representative Collin C. Peterson, the chairman of the committee. He added that American travel to Cuba would “show the Cuban people how great democracy can be.”
But opponents of the bill argued lifting the travel ban would benefit only the Communist government.
“Every dollar spent by American tourists in Cuba would contribute to the regime’s bottom line,” Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida, who voted against the bill, told the New York Times.
This week Amnesty International has called on the Cuban government to free political prisoners and end legal restrictions on freedoms of speech and the press.
Both the House and the Senate tried to ease the travel ban during the Bush administration, but were threatened with a veto from the president. In April 2009, President Obama allowed Cuban-Americans with family members in Cuba to travel to the country.