- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

Congressional negotiators agreed late yesterday to allow food and medicine sales to Cuba, clearing the way for a final historic vote on easing for the first time the 4-decade-old embargo on Havana.
The plan now goes to the Senate and House for a final vote, where sharp differences in the past lend a measure of uncertainty to the final outcome.
There was no immediate comment from the White House or the State Department. Earlier, President Clinton threatened a veto of the overall agriculture appropriations bill and pointed to the Cuba language as an infringement on the president's foreign policy authority.
If both houses agree, it would allow sales of food and medicine but bar any public or private U.S. financing of food sales. It also would write into law the current set of restrictions on U.S. tourism to President Fidel Castro's Cuba.
"This historic vote marks the first time Congress has moved to ease the embargo on Cuba and it is a sign of things to come since research shows most Americans support an overall end to the embargo," said Craig Fuller, co-chairman of the Americans for Humanitarian Trade With Cuba. The organization has waged a three-year campaign to lift the food and medicine embargo.
"This is the first major change in Cuba policy that has taken place since the embargo was put into place," said Joy Olson of the Latin America Working Group, which also has worked to lift the embargo. "This is a sea change."
The bill allows both supporters and opponents of the embargo to claim victory.
Anti-Castro legislators were able to prevent U.S. public or private financing of the sales, and they managed to codify into law travel restrictions embargo opponents find onerous.
That was the price anti-embargo legislators were forced to pay to get language in the $75 billion agriculture bill to permit the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. It also will allow the sale of food and medicine to Iran, Libya, Sudan and North Korea.
The language approved by negotiators exempts food and medicine from unilateral U.S. embargoes, which would benefit Iran, Libya, Sudan and North Korea as well as Cuba, but deny public or private U.S. financing to Cuba.
It also would put into law the current set of regulations that ban U.S. travel to Cuba unless Americans obtain a license or are invited by a non-U.S. group that pays the bill, while creating a new exempt category for people pursuing food sales.
Cuba imports about $750 million in food for its 11 million citizens each year.
The agreement came on the same day Havana criticized the proposal as a sham and said it would block any commercial transactions.
In Havana, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said if the proposal was enacted as it stood, "Cuba will not carry out any commercial transaction with the United States."
The Cuban official said the plan would not facilitate sales, and actually strengthen the embargo.
The compromise agreed to yesterday was the first time in nearly 40 years that the U.S. embargo has been cracked. While Democrats and liberals have been lobbying for years to loosen the embargo, a number of factors shifted sentiment in favor of easing the sanctions.
The Elian Gonzalez battle in the spring raised Cuba as an issue, with most Americans siding against the anti-Castro exiles in Miami and in favor of sending the child back to Cuba. The problem also raised the awareness of the U.S. economic embargo, and most Americans concluded that the sanctions were doing little to bring down the Cuban communist leadership and only hurting the average Cuban.
The two currents came together on Capitol Hill, when anti-sanctions and free-market business interests joined with farm state Republicans to work against the embargo.
While the Senate has passed food and medicine measures in past years, the House always held the line, until this summer.
In July, Republican anti-embargo legislators, over the strenuous objections of the Republican leadership, managed to get two amendments to the floor in the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act.
The amendments, to prevent prosecution of anyone who violated the travel ban, and a second to prevent the prosecution of anyone who sold food or medicine to Cuba, were overwhelmingly passed, but anti-Castro legislators managed to get them stripped from the final bill. Nevertheless, the Republican leadership was severely embarrassed.

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