Washington The House voted Thursday to lift limits against U.S. food and drug sales to Cuba and allow Americans to freely travel there. The vote was a major victory for farm, business and other groups trying to ease the four-decade-old sanctions against Fidel Castro's government.
With supporters arguing that increased contacts would help weaken Castro's hold over the communist nation, the House voted 232-186 to stop enforcing rules that limit the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba.
It then voted 301-116 to also halt enforcement of rules banning U.S. exports there of food, and of rules limiting sales there of American medicine.
Minutes earlier, lawmakers voted 241-174 to reject a broader proposal by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., that would have ended enforcement of United States prohibitions against virtually all trading with the Caribbean island nation.
Even so, approval of the narrower provisions was a major victory for an alliance of conservative, liberal, business- and farm-state lawmakers. And it was an embarrassing setback for House GOP leaders, who have opposed easing the sanctions.
Anti-Castro legislators said allowing Cuba to receive more U.S. trade and tourists would help prop up his regime.
But sponsors of easing the trade and travel embargoes said the result would be to accelerate the drive toward freedom in Cuba.
Ronald Reagan "allowed Americans with backpacks to travel in Eastern Europe, and it did help bring down the Berlin Wall," said conservative Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., chief sponsor of the language easing the travel restrictions.
"Personal freedom follows economic freedom," said Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who conceded that lifting the food embargo would help his farm-state constituents.
Sales of medicine to Cuba have been allowed since 1992 with certain restrictions.