WASHINGTON -- Cuban Americans visiting relatives in Cuba must return by July 31 or face fines of up to $55,000, according to new regulations imposed by the U.S. Treasury Dept.'s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The department's original ruling -- posted in mid-June -- had stipulated a June 30 return date, but lawmakers and travel industry representatives protested that the short notice did not give air charter companies enough time to inform passengers, many in remote areas, of the deadline.

The regulations also cap visits to two weeks every three years, instead of once every year, and only to immediate family members, such as parents and siblings. Baggage and the amount of money taken to relatives also will be restricted.

The rules are designed to hasten the fall of Fidel Castro's government by cutting the flow of tourist money to the island. Castro called the measures "pitiless and inhumane."

Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.) introduced legislation in Congress to overturn the "misguided restrictions [which] harm countless innocent Cubans."

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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