The US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture [official website] voted 25-20 Thursday to lift travel and trade restrictions [press release] to Cuba. The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act [HR 4645 materials], which would eliminate travel bans to Cuba and prohibit money transfer restrictions, will now face a full chamber vote. The bill's sponsor, Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) [official website], suggested, "increasing trade with Cuba will encourage democratic progress." A similar bill [S 428 materials] is pending in the US Senate [official website]. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) [official websites], sponsors of the Senate legislation, claim they have the votes necessary to eliminate [press release] the Cuba travel ban. Planning to push the bill to a vote in the remaining weeks of the legislative session, Dorgan said, "[t]he nearly 50-year embargo and travel ban restricting Americans' right to travel to Cuba has been a failure. The quickest way to bring democracy to Cuba is through travel and trade." Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) plans to oppose the bill and filibuster [press release] any attempt to pass it.
A version of the bill [HR 874 materials] was originally introduced [JURIST report] in the House in February 2009. The US Department of the Treasury [official website] in September lifted travel restrictions and restrictions on money transfers [JURIST report] between Cuban-Americans and their families in Cuba. The department also authorized US telecommunications companies to work within Cuba to facilitate communication between families split between the two countries. The Obama administration ordered the restrictions to be lifted [JURIST report] in April 2009. Earlier in 2009, Congress approved legislation that relaxed rules put in place by the Bush administration in 2004 [JURIST report]. In October 2008, the UN General Assembly [official website] adopted [press release] by a vote of 185-3 a resolution [text, PDF] urging the US to lift [JURIST report] its longstanding embargo on Cuba.