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The Treasury Department tightened economic sanctions against Cuba on Friday, cutting off the flow of U.S. currency to the Caribbean island as President Clinton continued to try to halt the Cuban exodus toward the United States.

The Treasury, fulfilling an order issued by Clinton last week, banned Cuban-Americans from sending money to relatives in Cuba and set limits on travel there by Americans and others residing in the United States.Although exceptions will be made in some cases - for humanitarian, personal or emergency reasons, for example - a senior Treasury official said the curbs would have a severe impact on the Cuban economy. The island nation's economy is declining badly despite continuing trade with a number of European and Latin American countries as well as Canada.

"These measures will severely curtail the flow of U.S. dollars into Cuba," said Richard Newcomb, director of the Treasury's office of foreign assets control.

The limitation on cash and other money transfers, as well as the ban on much of the air traffic between the United States and Cuba, is expected to rob the Cuban economy of more than $150 million a year, according to some estimates.

But administration officials acknowledge that the ban could be circumvented by sending money through banks in third countries or by traveling to Cuba through a third country, such as Mexico, or another Caribbean nation.

Nonetheless, they insisted that the ban would slow the cash flow significantly, especially through U.S. financial institutions and remittance shops in the Little Havana community of Miami. Treasury officials plan to monitor those institutions closely to enforce the Clinton order.

Under the ban, only non-cash gift parcels and humanitarian donations will be permitted. Journalists will be allowed to travel freely to Cuba, as will U.S. officials on government business.

The new regulations were announced as Clinton came under pressure from several congressional Democrats to reconsider his decision not to open talks with Cuban President Fidel Castro aimed at ending the new surge of Cuban rafters trying to reach Florida.

The Democrats, led by Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sharply criticized the president's policy of maintaining the U.S. embargo against Cuba while Canada and other U.S. allies are normalizing relations.


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Cubans `desperate'

Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina blamed the United States for the illegal flight of thousands of Cubans, saying U.S. economic sanctions against the island nation have made its citizens desperate.

"If a country wants to strangle a country through hunger and disease, it is not news that its people wish to migrate," Robaina said in remarks published Friday in the Roman Catholic Daily Presencia in La Paz, Bolivia.

Robaina arrived in Bolivia on Thursday for a three-day visit. He is to meet with President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lo-zada and sign agreements with Bolivia in the areas of health, education, commercial air links and tourism.

Robaina said Cuba is going through the most difficult period since its revolution but will not negotiate its principles.

"Cuba, its project and its people are not alone in their efforts to maintain their dignity," Robaina said.