The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee criticizes U.S. policy and signals he may support lifting a travel ban.
WASHINGTON - The chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, R-Ind., criticized U.S. policy toward Cuba during a hearing Thursday, saying the 43-year-old trade embargo on the communist island nation “has not worked.’‘
Lugar, who has usually maintained a low profile on Cuban policy, also signaled for the first time that he could support ending the travel ban “at an appropriate time.’‘
But Roger Noriega, the recently confirmed assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs, said after he addressed the committee that President Bush “will veto any measure to change the current restrictions.’’
Lugar’s cautious statement calling for a reexamination of U.S. policy appeared to reflect pressure from some farm-state Republican senators who would like to end the embargo altogether.
The Senate may vote this fall on a proposal, which passed the House last month, to ease the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba.
Several previous congressional attempts at easing the travel restrictions to Cuba have failed.
Lugar said that ‘‘current Cuba strategy has not worked’’ and said the United States must do a better job of working with European and Latin American nations to support change in Cuba.
‘‘We must think beyond our fruitless war of attrition that has only served to make Castro a folk hero in some parts of the world,’’ said the senator, adding that Cuba was a distraction from other Latin issues “of equal or greater importance.’‘
The hearing was the first time Noriega appeared to testify before lawmakers since being sworn in to his new post on Sept. 9.
In his remarks, which were limited almost entirely to Cuba, Noriega said any easing of travel restrictions would be “a risky proposition, the price for which the Cuban people would pay.’‘
‘‘Now is not the time to be experimenting with perhaps well-meaning but fundamentally misguided new tactics in Cuba which we believe would strengthen the regime, not move forward the day of fundamental reform,’’ Noriega said.