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US Senate panel votes to lift Cuba travel ban

Washington: A Republican-controlled Senate panel has voted to lift a decades-long US ban on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President Barack Obama’s moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations with the Castro-governed nation.

The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time.

The Senate Appropriations Committee 18-12 vote comes just days after the US and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by re-establishing diplomatic relations cut off during the Cold War.

“We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with them,” said sponsor Jerry Moran, a Republican. “I also would say that as Americans we have certain freedoms that we cherish, and Americans can travel around the globe today without exception – no country is totally prohibited with the exception of Cuba.”

The House Appropriations Committee has moved in the opposite direction, but the intra-party disagreement among Republicans makes it far less likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will try to use spending bills to challenge Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.

The panel also voted to lift restrictions on vessels that have shipped goods to Cuba from returning to the U.S. Until six months have passed.

The Cuba legislation was added to a $21 billion measure funding the Treasury Department, which enforces the longstanding trade embargo.