Andrew Taylor

WASHINGTON: House Republicans unveiled legislation on Tuesday to sharply curb the Obama administrationís recent moves to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba.

The provision by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American from Florida, would block new flights and cruise ship travel to Cuba. The provision was attached to a must-pass transportation spending bill that the House will consider next month.

Diaz-Balartís move comes in response to new rules issued by the administration in January that would significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and permit regularly scheduled flights for the first time, the result of a rapprochement after a half century of Cold War animosity.

The GOP plan would thwart the new flights but leave in place new rules permitting the import of limited amounts of goods like cigars and rum.

The provision is sure to spark controversy and a veto threat from the White House. It also faces votes in the Appropriations Committee and in the House, where there is significant sentiment, even among some GOP conservatives, to ease the five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island.

Agriculture organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests have expressed support for the administrationís outreach to Cuba.

The administration rules lifted a requirement that U.S. travelers obtain a license from the Treasury Department before traveling to Cuba. Instead, all that is required is for travelers to assert their trip would serve educational, religious or other permitted purposes.