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U.S., CUBA RELATIONS COULD BRING FLOOD OF BOATS FROM FLORIDA

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A flood of recreational boaters from the United States could pour into Cuban waters as soon as tensions ease between the two countries, a University of Florida scholar reported Tuesday.

Terry McCoy, director of the University of Florida's Center for Latin American Studies, said, "If relations are normalized, we might see tens of thousands of people going a year. Virtually overnight, it could go from nobody going to hundreds going a day."President Clinton recently said he plans to continue trade sanctions against Cuba, but the relationship between the two countries could improve if Cuba begins instituting democratic reforms or if Cuba's leadership changes.

Because neither country is prepared to deal with the onslaught of boaters, officials must begin planning now, McCoy said.

"When it does happen, it will happen at incredible speed," he said.

Jim Cato, director of Florida Sea Grant, said Floridians and Cubans visited each other on weekend boat trips prior to the Cuban revolution in 1959. He said modern boat traffic between the two countries would be heavier since the number of recreational boats has mushroomed and interest in Cuba has grown.

Under U.S. law, American citizens are now free to travel to Cuba but are not allowed to spend any money there. Lifting the spending ban could bring tens of thousands of U.S. tourists to the island nation annually, McCoy said.