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By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, April 28 (Reuters) - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives launched an effort on Tuesday to prevent new travel from the United States to Cuba, one of the first legislative attempts in Congress to thwart President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with the Communist-ruled island.
A House Department of Transportation appropriations bill introduced on Tuesday included a provision barring the use of funds to facilitate new scheduled air transportation originating from the United States if any such flights would land on or pass through any property confiscated by the Cuban government.
It also included a passage barring the use of any funds covered in the bill to issue licenses or operating certificates for any vessel that had docked within 7 miles of a port on property confiscated by the Cuban government within the previous 180 days.
If passed as part of the transportation bill, the provision would effectively keep the U.S. government from recertifying any airline or cruise line if it were to travel to Cuba, a committee aide said.
Representative Mario Diaz-Balart introduced Tuesday’s measure. The Florida Republican is a Cuban-American and a leading opponent of Obama’s effort to shift U.S. relations with Havana.
“U.S. law prohibits tourism in Cuba, and U.S. law also allows for those whose properties were confiscated by the Castro regime to sue those who use, or benefit from using, those confiscated properties,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement, referring to the government of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
The measure is expected to face opposition in Congress, where another group of lawmakers has introduced legislation seeking to repeal all restrictions on travel to Cuba.
The bill introduced on Tuesday could lead Obama to veto what is considered a must-pass appropriations bill.
Obama announced on Dec. 17 that he would move toward more normal relations with Cuba after more than half a century of enmity.
That announcement was met with strong resistance from many members of Congress, especially Republicans, who say Cuba must protect human rights for its citizens and make other changes, including sending U.S. fugitives to face trial, before Washington ends more than 50 years of trade restrictions.
In January, the Obama administration issued new regulations that eased several restrictions on trade with Cuba, including permitting more travel by Americans to the island. U.S. airlines, including United Airlines Inc, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways, said they would look into adding service. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler and David Gregorio)