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WASHINGTON, (AFP) – Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have introduced a bill to permit US citizens unrestricted travel to Cuba, according to the Library of Congress website.
The "Freedom To Travel to Cuba Act," which would overturn the 46-year-old US policy strictly limiting travel to the Caribbean island, will be subject to debate after being referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The bill, introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Bill Delahunt and backed by eight other lawmakers, states that "the President may not regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents."
Currently US nationals are supposed to request Treasury Department permission to visit Cuba. They are not routinely allowed to spend money in Cuba -- the Americas' only one-party communist state -- creating an effective travel ban.
US President Barack Obama has said he would speak with all foreign leaders in sharp contrast to successive US administrations which have sought to isolate Havana.
But he has offered few details on how far he might be willing to go in reaching out to Cuba.
During his campaign for the presidency, Obama said the Cuba embargo had not helped bring democracy to the island, led by President Raul Castro, 77.
Mother nature, it emerged this week, appears to have blessed the island with enough oil reserves to vault it into the ranks of energy powers. The government announced there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba's share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.
If confirmed, it puts Cuba's reserves on par with those of the US and into the world's top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba's state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet.
"It would change their whole equation. The government would have more money and no longer be dependent on foreign oil," said Kirby Jones, founder of the Washington-based US-Cuba Trade Association. "It could join the club of oil exporting nations."
The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 4 would allow American citizens unrestricted travel to Cuba for the first time since 1963. The bill by Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., and eight co-sponsors would also lift limits on travel by Cuban exiles living in the United States. The president would not be able to regulate travel to the island unless an armed conflict or armed danger arises.