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Long IslandPolitics

Obama to ease Cuban travel ban

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration intends to allowAmericans to visit relatives in Cuba and send money back to theirfamilies on the communist island nation, senior U.S. officials saidSaturday.

President Barack Obama plans to announce the policy changebefore the Summit of the Americas April 17-19 in Trinidad andTobago, according to the officials, who spoke on condition ofanonymity because the announcement had not been made.

Although some restrictions have been eased temporarily inlegislation Obama signed last month, lifting the bans would meet apledge he made during the presidential campaign and could signal anew openness with Cuba.

"The intent is to try to test the waters and see if we can getCuba to move in another direction," one official said. "One wayof getting the regime to open up may be to let people travel,increase exchanges and get money flowing to the island."

The official said there is no plan to lift the decades-oldembargo on the island and that the move "is just the presidentfulfilling a campaign promise."

As a candidate, Obama promised to allow unlimited family traveland remittances to Cuba. "It's time to let Cuban-Americans seetheir mothers and fathers, their sisters and their brothers," hesaid in a speech last May in Miami. "It's time to letCuban-American money make their families less dependent on theCastro regime."

There are growing calls in Congress to repeal restrictions onCuba.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the SenateForeign Relations Committee, has proposed appointing a specialenvoy to look into reshaping the overall relationship. Officialssaid Saturday that Lugar's idea would be considered.

On March 11, Obama signed legislation that rolled back rulesimposed by the Bush administration that limited Cuban travel tojust two weeks every three years by Americans and confined visitsto immediate family members.

Now, Americans with relatives in Cuba can visit once a year,stay as long as they wish and spend up to $179 a day. Thosechanges, which affect an estimated 1.5 million Americans, remain inplace until the current budget year ends on Sept. 30.

Some lawmakers backed by business and farm groups seeing newopportunities in Cuba are advocating even broader revisions in thetrade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power inHavana in 1959.

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators, including Lugar,proposed legislation that would prevent the president from stoppingtravel to Cuba by all Americans except in cases of war, imminentdanger to public health or threats to the physical safety of U.S.travelers.

There is an identical bill in the House with 120 co-sponsors.

The efforts have until now made little headway because of strongpolitical resistance led by Florida's influential Cuban-Americancommunity. But the situation has changed over the past year afterCastro ceded power to his brother Raul and Obama won the WhiteHouse.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on the policy change.

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