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Cuban-American politicians against loosening travel, aid rules

From the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Five Cuban-American members of Congress ask Obama to reconsider loosening the embargo
  • "We are deeply troubled," they say
  • The proposed changes would affect travel and Americans' ability to send money

Washington (CNN) -- Five Cuban-American members of Congress expressed concern Friday over reports that the Obama administration is planning to announce rules loosening restrictions on travel and economic aid to Cuba. They asked the president to reconsider.

"We are deeply troubled that such changes would result in economic benefits to the Cuban regime and would significantly undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives," said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey; and U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Florida; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida; and Albio Sires, D-New Jersey; in a letter to President Barack Obama.

"We believe the laws pertaining to U.S.-Cuba policy are clear, providing a concise road map of both permissible and prohibited transactions aimed at protecting and advancing U.S. interests," they said. "Meanwhile, changes such as those being reported in the media would undermine those priorities, could run contrary to U.S. statute, and would play directly into the hands of the Cuban tyranny.

"In light of the concerns and critical issues we have raised, we respectfully ask that you reconsider making any determinations changing current U.S.-policy toward the Cuban regime until the requirements in U.S. law are met."

On Wednesday, a senior U.S. official and congressional sources told CNN that the Obama administration would "soon" announce new rules on the embargo.

The central component of the proposed policy change involves "people-to-people" exchanges under which academics, corporations, humanitarian groups, and athletic teams could travel to Cuba. The administration would not lift tourist travel limits or the strict trade restrictions currently in place, but would promote cultural exchanges, programs with universities, or allow U.S. farms to send assistance to Cuban farmers as part of the new rules, the sources said.

An aide who supports the changes said the goal would be for people to be able to travel to the island to help Cubans build their own economy and culture. The policy is "to go down there give a message of hope, to help the Cuban people forge their own future as they want, not necessarily as the way another government wants," the aide said.

In addition, the administration is planning to expand the policy it announced last year under which Cuban-Americans can send money to relatives in Cuba. The new regulations would allow any U.S. citizen, including universities, churches and businesses, to send money or sponsor a partner in Cuba. There would be a cap on the amount of money that could be sent.

The State Department would also shift its current policy, which denies visas for Cubans to travel to the United States, to one that would give a "presumption of approval" unless a review were to discover a problem with the request, the sources said.

While the administration cannot change current travel restrictions without congressional approval, it does have the authority to loosen visa rules, the sources said.

Critics note that the government has not been brought down in the half century since the embargo was imposed and say it helps the Cuban government explain the economic hardships on the island.

According to his website, Lincoln Diaz-Balart helped draft the legislation that strengthened the embargo against the Cuban dictatorship in 1996, "making the lifting of sanctions contingent upon the liberation of all political prisoners and the scheduling of multiparty elections in Cuba."

 
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