US House eases Cuba travel ban
Washington - A committee of the US House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to lift the ban on American travel to Cuba, the latest in a string of attempts to ease restrictions against the island.
The House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 to allow travel to Cuba and make it easier to sell US agricultural exports there. Farm-state members of Congress have long supported expanding opportunities to sell food to the island.
Similar measures have died in the House or Senate in recent years as opponents have argued that lifting the ban could prop up Cuba's communist-run government.
The country has recently been weakened by the global economic crisis, a sustained drop in revenues from tourism and natural resources and by three hurricanes that caused billions of dollars in damage two years ago.
"Lifting the travel ban would inject millions of dollars into the Cuban government at a time when the Castro regime is on the ropes," said Republican Tom Rooney, a member of the panel who voted against the measure.
Obama admin mum on law
The House Foreign Relations Committee may also consider the legislation before it moves to the House floor. The chairperson of that committee, Democratic Howard Berman, praised the bill and said the travel restrictions have hurt only US citizens.
A State Department spokesperson would not say whether the Obama administration will support the legislation.
"Congress' addition to the robust discussion on the future of Cuba is healthy and an example of the democratic process that we would like to see in Cuba," said department spokesperson Mark Toner.
President Barack Obama has relaxed restrictions on family travel to Cuba but has said he will not support lifting general sanctions until the Cuban government improves human rights and political freedoms.
Cuba's government did not respond to a request for comment.