US and Cuba shipping bill clears first committee hurdle

Washington: Restrictions on shipping, trade and citizens’ travel between the US and Cuba came closer to being loosened on Thursday when a US Senate committee attached relevant amendments to an Appropriations Bill.

The amendments became the first legislative measures to clear a Senate Committee – in this case the Appropriations Committee – which could move toward normalising relations between the two nations after a longstanding freeze because of Cold War politics.

The US trade embargo on the Communist Caribbean island meant virtually no maritime contact between the countries. That policy had the desired effect of constraining the Cuban economy but without effecting the desired regime change.

Should the bill survive in somewhat similar form with these amendments intact then restrictions could be lifted on ships calling at Cuban ports and sea-borne commerce would become the norm.

Rapprochement between the 50-plus-year foes began in December last year and passed a milestone when US President Barack Obama met his Cuban equivalent Raul Castro in April.

Cuba opened its embassy in Washington on Monday this week.

Although the committee that approved the bill has a Republican majority there is still likely to be strong opposition to it in Republican-controlled Congress where it is likely to generate some heated debate.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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