Tags: obama | thaw | cuba

Obama Administration Starts Thaw with Cuba

Tuesday, 10 Mar 2009 09:42 AM

By Dave Eberhart

In the run-up to next month’s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the Obama administration has moved to ease travel controls and lift limits on cash remittances that Cuban-Americans can send to the island, notes a report in the U.K.’s Observer.

The ground-breaking provisions are featured in a $410 billion spending bill set to be voted on this week. The bill would allow Americans with immediate family in Cuba to visit annually, instead of once every three years, and broaden the definition of immediate family.

It would also nix a requirement that Havana pay cash in advance for U.S. food imports.

“There is a strong likelihood that Obama will announce policy changes prior to the summit,” said Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue and author of The Cuba Wars. “Loosening travel restrictions would be the easy thing to do and defuse tensions at the summit.”

The sanctions presently on the books include:

  • No Cuban products or raw materials may enter the U.S.

  • U.S. companies and foreign subsidiaries banned from trade with Cuba.

  • Cuba must pay cash up front when importing U.S. food.

  • Ships which dock in Cuba may not dock in the U.S. for six months.

  • U.S. citizens are banned from spending money or receiving gifts in Cuba without special permission, in effect a travel ban.

  • Americans with family on the island limited to one visit every three years.

    Obama’s proposed Cuba measures would only partly thaw a policy frozen since John F. Kennedy tried to isolate the communist state across the Florida Straits. “It would signal new pragmatism -- but you would still have the embargo -- which is the centerpiece of U.S. policy,” said Erikson.

    As historic as the proposed changes are, some want the new President to act even more boldly.

    Wayne Smith at the Center for International Policy, Washington D.C. said: “[I]t’s about time we took Cuba off the terrorist list. It’s the beginning of the end of the policies we have had towards Cuba for 50 years. It’s achieved nothing, it’s an embarrassment.”

    Meanwhile, according to the Observer report, a handful of hard-line anti-Castro Republican and Democrat members of Congress have threatened to derail the $410 billion spending bill unless the Cuba provisions are removed -- but most analysts think the legislation will survive.

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