By Anna Willard | Reuters
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday defied the White House and voted to ease limits on U.S. student travel and trade with Cuba but defeated a measure that would have lifted all economic sanctions.
The Bush administration had asked the House not to take any steps to water down sanctions and had threatened to veto the bill that contained them saying that they weaken President Bush’s tough stance toward Cuba’s Communist president Fidel Castro.
House Republicans said that because of the veto threat it is likely that the Cuba amendments, attached to a spending bill funding the Departments of Transport and Treasury for 2005, would be stripped out before the legislation is finalized.
In recent years several Cuba measures have been taken out of bills.
Cuba policy is a sensitive issue in Florida, a key swing state where Cuban Americans form a crucial voting bloc in the presidential race.
The House easily adopted a measure blocking new rules designed to limit U.S. students’ ability to study in Cuba. A separate amendment, also easily adopted, would loosen the restrictions on private companies selling medicines, farm products, and medical supplies to the Caribbean nation.
“It is time to change our policies and go in a new direction,” said California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, who introduced the measure to ease limits on businesses.
On Tuesday evening, the House also voted in favor of a Democrat-introduced measure that would allow Cuban Americans to visit Cuba to see their families more frequently than the new rules allow.
The administration earlier this year imposed additional restrictions limiting how often Cuban Americans can visit relatives on the island or what supplies they can send them.
Those moves have angered some Cuban Americans, a block that overwhelmingly voted Republican in 2000.
But the House voted 225-188 on Wednesday to defeat an amendment introduced by New York Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel to lift the overall economic embargo.
“I would ask this Congress ... to stand with the Cuban people today and to reject this amendment which simply seeks to reward oppression,” said Florida Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who opposed all of the Cuba amendments to the Transport and Treasury Bill.
The House approved the overall bill by 397-12. The Senate has yet to consider its version.