Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Renew ties, some in Congress say

USA Today

Posted 8/1/2006 11:40 PM ET

By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The prospect of an end to Fidel Castro's regime in communist Cuba has already sparked renewed interest in Congress in restoring some ties with the island nation.

Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has traveled to Cuba four times, says he plans to introduce legislation in September that would allow U.S. diplomatic contacts with Cuba.

"We have fewer contacts in Cuba than we've ever had," he said. "We're in a bad position there in terms of knowing people. We've cut ourselves off. That's not a good thing."

In the past five years, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have approved measures to end an embargo on trade with and travel to Cuba that dates to 1962. President Bush opposed lifting the embargo, and the measures never became law.

In 2000, the U.S. government eased some of the sanctions on Cuba by allowing some food and agricultural products to be sold directly to the island.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Tuesday that "there are no plans to reach out" to a Cuban government headed by Castro's brother, Raul.

Even so, advocates for revising U.S. policy toward Cuba — including Republicans such as Flake — see an opportunity.

Rep. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who favors agricultural trade with the Caribbean island, says Castro's decision to temporarily step aside gives the Bush administration "a reason to at least consider some changes in our trade and travel to Cuba."

Moran has visited Cuba twice, which he is able to do as a member of Congress.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., a confidant of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, says it will require political changes in both the USA and Cuba to lift the embargo.

"If the politics of South Florida weren't so strong and the president's brother were not the governor of Florida, things could be different," LaHood said. He was referring to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and members of Miami's Cuban-American community, many of whom oppose any relations with a Castro.

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