Obama eases Cuba travel, but embargo remains
His reforms make it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and financially support family on the island. But some Latin leaders say the changes don’t go far enough.
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The White House says US-Cuba policy is under a full review. But the expectation that Obama would announce his new policy reform before attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago beginning Friday has spawned a raft of letters and recommendations – from Congress, from Cuba policy groups on the left and right, and from Cuban-American organizations.Skip to next paragraph
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Perhaps the most prominent of those calls came from US Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, who urged Obama in a March 30 letter to open a dialogue with Cuba's Communist regime and to welcome the island nation into the Washington-based Organization of American States.
But Senator Lugar did not call for ending the 1962 economic embargo, nor did he call for establishing full diplomatic relations. Instead, he recommended naming a special envoy who could begin a dialogue on issues such as democratic reform, migration, and drug-trafficking.
Other members of Congress oppose such a plan. Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey – a Cuban-American – rejects any opening to Cuba as a gift to a regime that continues to jail dissidents and prodemocracy advocates.
By skirting the emotional issue of the embargo – the repeal of which would require congressional action – Obama may be signaling a desire to start with reforms that won't ruffle too many feathers.
But some Cuba experts say the embargo issue is a red herring: It does not stand in the way of meaningful change. "The embargo is nothing; we shouldn't let it stand in the way of so many things we can do," says Wayne Smith, director of the Cuba program at the Center for International Policy in Washington.
Mr. Smith says Obama needs to make a clean break from the Bush administration – both in personnel and policy. One good-faith step, he says, would be to reestablish the academic exchanges and intergovernment dialogue that existed before the Bush administration.
The Obama administration also should make clear that it is no longer official US policy to bring down the Cuban government, says Smith, a former head of the US Interests Section in Havana – a sort of quasi embassy. "We can talk while still having our disagreements. Then maybe we can get to the embargo in a few years."