July 16 (Bloomberg) -- Senator Byron Dorgan, co-sponsor of a bill to lift a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, said both houses of Congress will pass the legislation this year.
Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who is sponsoring the bill with Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, said in an interview that he plans to move the legislation to the Senate floor by attaching it as an amendment to another bill this month or in September. He plans to include a measure to make it easier for U.S. farmers to sell goods to the communist island.
Groups such as the United States Tour Operators Association and the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based organization of companies and trade associations, have called for a repeal of the ban, which is designed to isolate the regime of President Raul Castro and keep hard currency out of the country. The House Agriculture Committee passed a bill last month that would end the travel ban and would simplify rules governing cash transactions with Cuba.
“I fully expect that we have the votes to lift the travel ban,” Dorgan said in a telephone interview. “We’re going to punish the Castro government by punishing the American people’s right to travel? That’s absurd.”
U.S. lawmakers have said before that they expected to pass legislation ending the 47-year ban that forbids most Americans from visiting the country. Representative Sam Farr, a California Democrat, said in September that legislation would pass that year. Congressman Collin Peterson said in March 2009 that a bill might pass the House in April.
The U.S. exported $532 million worth of goods to Cuba last year, the overwhelming share being wheat, corn, meat and other farm goods. That total could be higher if rules governing cash payments were made simpler, U.S. farm groups say.
Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero has said 1 million American tourists may visit the island annually if the ban on travel is ended.
President Barack Obama said in March that he’s seeking a “new era” in relations with Cuba even as he denounced “deeply disturbing” human rights violations by its government. He hasn’t said where he stands on Dorgan’s bill.
Obama last year ended restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba and transferring money to relatives back home. The U.S. State Department has also held talks in Havana with Cuban officials about restoring mail service and cooperation on migration issues.
Dorgan’s bill is S. 428.
--Editors: Brendan Walsh, Bill Faries.
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JG: Write to your two U.S. Senators and ask them to please vote for Senator Dorgan's bill, S. 428. Get your passport ready to enjoy the beauty of Cuba and its people.