Congress votes to ease Cuba travel restrictions

U.S. citizens with family in Cuba will be able to visit the island nation more often and stay as long as they like under legislation Congress passed Tuesday night.

Changes in rules for family travel to Cuba, which were included in a massive spending bill, come amid debate on whether the U.S. should lift its trade embargo against Cuba.

Under the bill, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign, Cuban-Americans could travel to Cuba once a year to visit relatives and stay for an unlimited duration. Existing rules limit family visits to once every three years for no more than 14 days at a time.

The bill would also would ease financing rules for imports of food and medicine into Cuba. That provision prompted protests by lawmakers who said it would reward a brutal dictatorship.

In letters released on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner assured lawmakers that the bill would not substantially change the rules governing agricultural sales.

The U.S. embargo on other exports to Cuba remains in place, as do restrictions on most travel.

Geithner wrote that the administration is “currently reviewing United States policy toward Cuba to determine the best way to foster democratic change in Cuba and improve the lives of the Cuban people.”?

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.