June 14, 2006

House votes to ease rule on food sales to Cuba

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives voted
on Wednesday to make it easier to sell U.S. farm products to
Cuba by overriding a Bush administration requirement to pay in
cash before the ship leaves harbor.

By voice vote, the House adopted language allowing payment
to be made before the goods change hands, a more common
approach for cash sales that also speeds delivery. It became
part of a Treasury funding bill passed on a 406-22 vote.

Representatives killed two other proposed amendments aimed
at revising U.S. relations with Cuba, including one to end the
U.S. economic embargo in place since the early 1960s.

In an exception to the four-decade-old embargo, Congress
authorized food sales to Cuba in 2000 as long as Havana paid in
advance. The Treasury Department announced in February 2005
that payment must be made before the ship sailed.

"What happened in February 2005 makes no economic or
commercial sense," said Kansas Republican Jerry Moran, sponsor
of the amendment on food trade. "At least in the agricultural
world, there is an understanding that unilateral sanctions
don't work."

The House and Senate adopted similar amendments last year
but Republican leaders deleted them during negotiations over a
final version of the annual Treasury funding bill. The White
House threatened a veto unless the language was dropped.

Moran and other critics said the White House's 2005
interpretation put roadblocks in the way of U.S. sales. Havana
has to pay for the time that ships sit idle after loading while
waiting for payment or pay a fee to use a letter of credit.

In an interview, Moran said his amendment had "broad
support" in both chambers.

On the two other Cuba-related amendments, the House:

-- defeated, 245-183, an amendment to end the U.S. economic
boycott. Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat,
unsuccessfully tried similar amendments in the past.

Rangel called the embargo a "failed policy" that has not
improved human rights in Cuba, "while causing injury to
ordinary Cubans, as well as Americans whose freedom to travel
and to pursue business opportunities on the island are

--rejected, 236-187, amendment that would have made it
easier for students to study in Cuba.