Congress eases trade and travel to Cuba

09:47, 11 March 2009
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The U.S. Senate passed...

The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that eases some sanctions against Cuba, undoing steps taken by the Bush administration to toughen the trade embargo dating from the Cold War, according to Reuters.

Following are the Cuba provisions contained in the $410 billion spending bill sent to President Barack Obama:

- American businessmen will be allowed to travel to Cuba under a general license (not requiring individual permission) to sell agricultural products and medical goods that are exempted from the trade embargo. Cuba purchased $710 million in U.S. agricultural goods in 2008, mainly grains.

- The bill "defunds" U.S. government enforcement of a rule introduced by the Bush administration in 2005 requiring Cuba to pay U.S. companies before the loading of food shipments in U.S. ports. The prior policy allowed payment after shipment but before delivery to Cuba.

- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, however, wrote to two Democratic senators that the cash-in-advance rule will still apply by law, and exporters will not be permitted to export to Cuba on credit other than through third-party banks. He said only a "narrow class" of businesses would be eligible to travel to sell agricultural and medical goods, and they would be required to provide advance notice of their trip and report on whom they met and what their expenses were in Cuba.

- The bill also "defunds" enforcement of a measure adopted by the Bush administration in 2004 that limited Cuban-Americans to one 14-day trip every three years to visit family in Cuba, and narrowed the definition of family to exclude uncles, aunts and cousins. Prior policy allowed one visit a year with no time limit.

- Depriving the U.S. government of funds to enforce the Bush administration provisions on Cuba does not change the law, though Cuban-Americans who chose to travel more frequently to Cuba can do so without fear of penalty. The "defunding" provisions expire at the end of this fiscal year on September 30.

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