Defying a veto threat from President Bush, the Republican-led Senate joined the
House of Representatives in approving a measure aimed at easing restrictions
on U.S. travel to Cuba.
The Senate voted to bar the use of government money to enforce travel restrictions
"It is not constructive at all to try to slap around Fidel Castro by imposing
limits on Americans' right to travel," said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota
Democrat, who is a key sponsor of the measure.
Supporters argue that more contacts between American and Cuban citizens will
help spur democratic change in the Communist-ruled island nation.
The legislation was contained in an amendment to the Transportation and Treasury
Department bill. A similar measure was approved by the House last month.
Once the Senate votes on the overall bill, differences will have to be reconciled
with the House version, before a final bill is sent to President Bush.
But Mr. Bush has signaled he would veto the legislation, if it contains the
Reflecting administration concerns, Senator Ted Stevens, the Republican chairman
of the Appropriations Committee, said changing U.S. policy now would amount
to rewarding Fidel Castro's government for its recent crackdown on dissidents.
"It is essential to maintain sanctions and travel restrictions, to deny economic
resources to the brutal Castro regime," he said.
Current law allows some travel to Cuba by Americans, particularly scholars
and journalists. The Bush administration estimates as many as 200,000 Americans
visit Cuba legally each year. But thousands of other Americans travel there
illegally, by way of third countries, risking thousands of dollars in fines
Many in the Cuban-American community in Florida have long pressed the Bush
administration to take a tougher approach to the government in Havana. Florida
could be a crucial state for Mr. Bush's re-election bid next year.