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26 Feb, 2009 14:37

Half century Cuba blockade tuning down

Half century Cuba blockade tuning down

On Wednesday, the US Congress has approved a spending bill, which will reduce restrictions against Cuba that were imposed by the former Bush administration.

The bill allows Americans who have relatives in the Communist state to visit them once a year, not once in three years as before. They are also allowed to spend $US 170 per day on their trips as opposed to just $US 50 at present.

The bill also includes uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces into the category of close relatives.

“Today, we've taken compassionate action, because it corrects a measure that restricted visits and, besides that, it sent a message that Congress supports … a change in the policy toward Cuba,” New York Democrat Jose Serrano, who chairs a House budget subcommittee, told Spanish news agency EFE.

US embargo against Cuba

In 1958 when the Cuban revolution started, the US government imposed an arms embargo on the country. When the new communist leadership started expropriating the property of American companies, the US responded with a series of trade and financial restrictions. Cuba on its side allied with the Soviet Union, and America imposed travel restrictions in addition to those already in place. The embargo has since been modified many times by several administrations. The UN has on numerous occasions called the US to lift the restrictions. Havana says the blockade has cost it $US 100 billion over half a century.

The goal of the 2004 travel restrictions imposed by the Bush administration on Cuban-Americans was to cut the supply of foreign currency to the island nation.

If passed into law, the document will also lift restrictions on the supply of food and medicine to Cuba. At the moment Cubans have to pay for them in advance and are not allowed to pay when the products arrive at the island.

The lifted restrictions are but a fraction of those imposed against Cuba since 1962, but the relaxing of the almost half-a-century old embargo is a clear sign that, with the change of the administration, the US is willing to take a more liberal stance towards its neighbor.

The bill will be considered by the Senate on Friday.