US Senate unlikely to kill Cuba measures – Reid

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s majority  leader signalled yesterday that provisions to ease limits on  trade and travel to Cuba were likely to be approved because  they were attached to a larger bill that he did not want to  stall.

“I’m not wild about some of the Cuba provisions in this  bill myself,” Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat, told reporters.  “There are a couple of those that I don’t like very much, but  it’s not enough to bring the bill down, in my opinion.”

With Congress facing a deadline on Friday to pass the  massive $410 billion bill to fund many government operations,  an aide to Reid told reporters it did not appear that foes of  loosening sanctions on the communist-run island had enough  votes to strip the provisions. The House of Representatives last week approved the bill  with the Cuba provisions. Supporter say since Fidel Castro, who  seized power in a 1959 revolution, retired last year due to  poor health, it is time to review decades-old policies that  have shunned the island 90 miles (145 km) off the Florida  coast.

The proposals do not lift the overall U.S. embargo on Cuba,  but would prohibit the Treasury Department from enforcing Bush  administration rules requiring payment of cash in advance for  agricultural sales to Cuba.

They also would allow Americans with relatives in Cuba to  travel there more frequently and for longer time periods. Republican Senator Mel Martinez, who represents Florida  which is home to many fiercely anti-Castro Cuban exiles such as  himself, said he was offering amendments to take the provisions  out of the bill, but acknowledged he did not have high hopes  they would succeed.

President Barack Obama has made clear he favors relaxing  limits on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans  to Cuba, although he has said the U.S. trade embargo should  stay in place to press for democratic reforms.     Most of the changes in the spending bill would expire on  Sept. 30 — the end of this fiscal year — unless there is a  move to extend them by Congress or Obama.

Some Democrats as well as Republicans oppose the changes,  saying Cuba’s authoritarian regime, now headed by Fidel  Castro’s brother Raul, does not deserve them.

“We simply cannot let up our pressure on the regime without  seeing symbols of progress,” New Jersey Democrat Robert  Menendez told the Senate on Monday.

Reid said he was happy to work with people who were  concerned about Cuba, but “we’re not going to be able to change  at this stage unless there’s enough votes.”

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