Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hard-liner backs easing Cuba travel ban

Iraq War veteran Sgt. Carlos Lazo, who was denied permission to visit his teenage children who live in Cuba, apparently had an affect on a notorious anti-Castro hardline Congressman.


Rep. Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who co-authored the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that tightened the squeeze on Cuba, has decided to support a bill that lifts restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island, an advocacy group said Thursday.

Burton's office did not immediately return calls seeking comments, but Sgt. Carlos Lazo, a decorated Cuban-American U.S. Army medic who is visiting Congress this week to lobby in favor of lifting travel restrictions to Cuba, said Burton assured him he supported the bill, which is sponsored by Reps. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Ray LaHood, R-Ill.

Lazo became a potent symbol of the impact of the restrictions on Cuban-American travel, implemented in summer 2004. He was denied permission to go see his two teenage sons when he finished his tour of duty in Iraq, where he earned a bronze medal for his services in Fallujah. The Bush administration tightened family travel to Cuba from once every year to once every three years.

"He told me, 'I'm on board,'" Lazo told The Miami Herald shortly after meeting Burton for the second time over two days to ensure that the congressman had, in effect, decided to back the bill.

Burton's decision is significant because the lawmaker is considered a hard-liner on Cuba and represents a victory for groups that oppose the trade and travel restrictions. They hope his defection will convince more members of Congress to back the Cuban-American bill, one of the few that is expected to pass and even survive a veto threat by President Bush.

Lazo, who has met more than 30 members of Congress, was brought to Washington by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an advocacy group that seeks more contacts with Cuba.

The Bush administration and congressional supporters say the sanctions are needed to deny resources to a Cuban government that uses the money to repress its own people, and they argue any unilateral lifting of restrictions at this time is wrong because Cuba could be on the cusp of a period of post-Fidel Castro transition.



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