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House panel votes to lift Cuba travel ban

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House committee voted Wednesday to lift the ban on American travel to Cuba, the latest in a string of attempts to ease restrictions on the island.

The House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 to allow travel to Cuba and make it easier to sell U.S. agricultural exports there. Farm-state members of Congress have long supported expanding opportunities to sell food to the island.

Similar measures have died in the House or Senate in recent years as opponents have argued that lifting the ban could prop up Cuba's government. The country has recently been weakened by the global economic crisis, a sustained drop in revenues from tourism and natural resources and by three hurricanes that caused billions of dollars in damage two summers ago.

''Lifting the travel ban would inject millions of dollars into the Cuban government at a time when the Castro regime is on the ropes,'' said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a member of the panel who voted against the measure.

The House Foreign Relations Committee may also consider the legislation before it moves to the House floor. The chairman of that committee, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., praised the bill and said the travel restrictions have only hurt U.S. citizens.

A State Department spokesman would not say if the Obama administration will support the legislation.

''Congress' addition to the robust discussion on the future of Cuba is healthy and an example of the democratic process that we would like to see in Cuba,'' said department spokesman Mark Toner.

President Barack Obama has relaxed restrictions on family travel to Cuba but has said he will not support lifting general sanctions until the Cuban government improves human rights and political freedoms.

Cuba's government did not respond to a request for comment.

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Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Havana and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


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