By Pablo Bachelet | Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that would subject the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba to an annual review by Congress.
The bipartisan measure, the latest effort to chip away at the embargo, comes as President Bush prepares to toughen it by making it harder for Cuban Americans to travel to the communist-run nation and send money to relatives there.
Opponents of the sanctions say the White House steps, set to go into effect on June 1, pander to Cuban-American voters in Florida and hurt ordinary Cubans instead of Cuba’s government.
“These new restrictions are simply the latest in a long series that have been implemented without congressional consultation,” said Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat sponsoring the bill.
The measure is based on the annual review process that Congress set last year for sanctions against Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
“I want to emphasize that our bill would not end the sanctions now. Instead, it would simply subject them to annual renewal procedures just as provided in the Burma sanctions,” Baucus said.
The senator was accompanied by Rep. C.L. “Butch” Otter, an Idaho Republican, Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican.
A congressional coalition that includes Democrats and moderate, farm-state Republicans opposes the embargo.
In 2000 the United States relaxed the sanctions, first imposed in 1960, to allow for food sales. Since then, Cuba has paid more than $600 million in cash for U.S. agricultural products.
The lawmakers were flanked by a group of U.S. citizens brought to Congress to lobby for lifting travel restrictions.
They are either facing fines for traveling to Cuba or have been barred from visiting the island nation under tighter travel regulations promoted by the Bush administration.
One person, Josh Sharpe, a paralyzed Persian Gulf War veteran, was barred from participating in a disabled sports program in Cuba.
“This is the enemy,” said Flake pointing to the group. “This is who we are sanctioning.”
The bill is endorsed by several business and travel groups that favor open trade with Cuba including ATRIP-USA Engage Alliance, the National Foreign Trade Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation.