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Otto Reich: Lifting Cuba Travel Ban Unwise

By Rick Pedraza   |   Monday, 06 Apr 2009 10:02 PM

President Bush's former special envoy to Latin America tells Newsmax that he’s against the Obama administration’s plan to lift the travel ban on Cuba because it “would simply put money into the pockets of the Castro brothers.”

Otto Reich, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and a veteran diplomat who served in three Republican administrations, argues that, instead of appeasing a dictatorship, the United States should use its enormous economic clout to get major concessions from the Castro regime.

[Editor's Note: Watch Ambassador Otto Reich discuss the Obama administration’s plan to lift restrictions on Cuba - Go Here Now]

During the weekend, the Associated Press and other news organizations reported that the Obama administration intends to allow Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send money back to their families on the communist island nation.

Instead of easing restrictions on travel, Reich says the Obama administration should be demanding that the Castro regime stop engaging in a litany of human rights abuses and allow for new freedoms.

Among these, Reich said:

  • Releasing political prisoners

  • Allowing freedom of speech

  • Allowing freedom of the press

  • Allowing some freedom of association or travel

  • And allowing private enterprise.

    Reich is not so sure that even Fidel Castro's passing would change the fundamental approach of the regime, though he notes that Castro’s health is not very good.

    “He’s been in the hospital now for almost three years,” he says. “He seems to have recovered enough that he issues statements periodically trying to maintain his ideological control over the government.”

    Meanwhile, Fidel's brother Raul appears to have taken over a great role.

    “Raul Castro has made some changes that have to be characterized as cosmetic,” Reich allows, noting Cubans now may own cellular telephones and may have some other restrictions lifted.

    “I know it’s a little bit laughable, in the year 2009, to consider allowing people to buy telephones as a great reform,” Reich says. “But that’s how some members of the media have characterized this. In effect, it means Castro is allowing the Cuban people to enter at full speed the twentieth century — except we’re in the twenty-frst" century.

    As for lifting the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, an idea not yet embraced by the Obama administration, Reich says such a move probably will not change Cuba's political landscape.

    Reich noted that Europe nations, among others, have been been doing business with Cuba for five decades. It has done nothing to help the Cuban people gain freedom, he says.

    “I think the Europeans — in their more candid moments, in private — admit that,” Reich says.

    “Cuba owes Europe $29 billion," he says. "This is an enormous amount of money; almost $30 billion for a country of 11 million people. That, on a per-capita basis, has to be one of the largest debts in the world today.”

    Reich also noted during his interview with Newsmax:

  • “Fidel Castro is an incredible thief.This guy robbed the people of Cuba not only of all their freedoms, but all their property. And when he finally utilized all of their value, he started to try to take other people’s money.”

  • Castro has been living off of charity provided by the Soviet Union, the United Nations, Europeans, and some Latin American governments, Reich says, noting he owes billions of dollars to Argentina, and billions more to Brazil and Mexico. “We are very lucky that 11 consecutive presidents have not fallen into the trap of lending money and providing credit to Fidel Castro, because he doesn’t owe us anything.”

  • Reich warns that Russia plans to open more military bases in Cuba and that North Korea reportedly is transferring missile technology to Venezuela. "This is a danger to this hemisphere. We’re allowing what could be possibly terrorists, intelligence agents, and who knows what, to land in the Western Hemisphere and from Venezuela move into Columbia, the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico."

    [Editor's Note: Watch Ambassador Otto Reich discuss the Obama administration’s plan to lift restrictions on Cuba - Go Here Now]

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