Opponents of a travel ban to Cuba reacted furiously on Thursday to a decision by US lawmakers to dump provisions that would have allowed Americans to travel freely to the island for the first time in decades.
In Havana, President Fidel Castro's communist-run government accused the Republican leadership of resorting to "undemocratic" tactics to overrule a substantial majority in Congress.
Under threat of a White House veto, negotiators in a House of Representatives and Senate conference committee late on Wed-nesday removed from pending legislation language that would have barred President George W. Bush from spending any money to enforce the travel ban.
Both chambers had voted in favor of identical amendments to lift the ban by wide margins, the closest the anti-travel ban camp ever came to repealing the 42-year-old prohibition. The camp is made up of a coalition that includes most Democrats, farm-state Republicans, human rights groups and the business community.
Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and an active proponent of lifting the Cuba embargo, said negotiators acted in an undemocratic way.
"For a few individuals in backroom negotiations to override the will of a majority of Congress sets a dangerous, undemocratic prece-dent," he said.
Bush argues the travel ban is needed to stop Castro from getting US tourist dollars and has vowed to veto any bill that contains language affecting the ban.
But pro-travel legislators said the president is pandering to the powerful Cuban American community in Florida, a key swing state in next year's presidential elections.
"Politics have triumphed again over principle," said Arizona Republican Representative Jeff Flake, a sponsor of the initiative to drop the ban and a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
"For the same reason we will never have a rational farm policy as long as presidential campaigns begin in Iowa, we will never have a rational Cuba policy as long as presidential campaigns are perceived to end in Florida," Flake said.
Business groups also voiced their dismay. They back the measure because it will allow cash-strapped Cuba to buy more food from the US.