POLITICS

Senators Visit Cuba To Drum Up More Support For Ending U.S. Travel Ban

05/27/2015 08:28 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2016

By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA, May 27 (Reuters) - A U.S. senator visiting Cuba said bipartisan support was gaining in Congress to lift a ban on travel to Cuba and possibly also to end the long economic embargo against the Communist-led island.

A four-person Democratic delegation led by Senator Tom Udall came to Cuba while Washington and Havana work toward restoring diplomatic relations. Negotiators for both sides met in Washington last week, saying progress had been made toward the reopening of embassies after 54 years.

Since President Barack Obama in December reversed the Cold War-era policy of isolating Cuba, U.S. legislators have proposed a host of Cuba-related bills that would end the travel ban and promote agricultural sales and Internet cooperation.

"There's growing bipartisan support in the Senate for all of these bills," Udall, a Democrat of New Mexico, told reporters in Havana.

"Today in the Foreign Relations Committee a majority of Democrats and Republicans support dropping the travel ban. We're at a point where the bipartisan support is building," Udall said.

Obama has allowed Americans to more easily make authorized visits but tourism remains banned.

The Democratic president has also proposed eliminating the comprehensive U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. A bill to that effect has been presented but needs the Republican leadership in both houses to accede to a vote, so far a remote possibility.

Asked specifically about prospects for a congressional vote to lift the embargo, Udall said, "There are many avenues for changing the law" besides bringing an individual bill to a vote, such as an omnibus package that joins multiple bills, typically cobbled together at the end of the year.

"It may well be that the president's able to negotiate some of those things in the bills," Udall said.

Opponents of the embargo also see lifting the travel ban as a way to weaken the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, the legislation that codifies the embargo.

Udall and Senator Al Franken of Minnesota both cited public opinion polls showing growing majorities in support of engaging with Cuba. They were joined by Representatives Raul Grijalva of Arizona and John Larson of Connecticut in meeting Cuban officials and private citizens. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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