Last updated: 09:43 AM ET, Fri July 24 2015

Senate Committee Votes to Lift Ban on Travel to Cuba

Impacting Travel | Patrick Clarke | July 24, 2015

Senate Committee Votes to Lift Ban on Travel to Cuba

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted to lift restrictions on American travel to Cuba Thursday, propelling the Obama administration's previous efforts to open up relations with the Caribbean nation, Reuters reported.

Four Republican senators combined with 14 Democrats to approve the amendments via an 18-12 vote.

The committee also passed amendments to a Financial Services appropriations bill to allow banks and U.S. businesses to finance sales of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba as well as lift restrictions on ships that call at Cuban ports.

"This is a first step by the Senate to dismantle a failed, discredited and counterproductive policy that in 54 years has failed to achieve any of its objectives," said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy via Reuters. "These votes were not about the repugnant policies of the Castro regime, but about doing away with unwarranted impediments to travel and commerce imposed on Americans by our own government."

Because the amendments are attached to the appropriations bills, they are likely to eventually be voted on in the full Senate. But the amended bill will also need to be approved by the House of Representatives in order to be written into law.

Thursday's first step in lifting the travel ban to Cuba comes more than seven months after the Obama administration first announced plans to normalize relations with the island nation.

Currently, Americans are permitted to travel to Cuba without a special license so long as they can assert that their trip falls under one of a dozen different categories, including educational or religious purposes. 

However, only Congress can lift both the decades-long trade embargo and the various travel restrictions. 

"We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with them," said Republican Senator Jerry Moran via the Associated Press. "I also would say that as Americans we have certain freedoms that we cherish, and Americans can travel around the globe today without exception — no country is totally prohibited with the exception of Cuba."

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