Democracy Advocates Urge Obama to Keep Cuban Trade Ban

Friday, 05 Jul 2013 10:23 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The trade embargo on Cuba must stay to starve Havana's communist government of cash, pro-democracy activists have told the State Department.

A steady flow of cash into Castro's government could help it crush the island's pro-democracy efforts, warned Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Farinas who met behind closed doors with Obama administration officials in Washington.

The Obama administration has yet to comment about the meetings, which included one with  Farinas at Foggy Bottom in late June, reports the Washington Times.

The meetings were described as "extraordinary and very helpful by Mauricio Claver Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington. "[U.S. policymakers] now get to actually see it and feel it firsthand from the protagonists themselves,” he said.

U.S. and Cuban officials in June held a landmark meeting to discuss re-establishing direct mail between the countries, and plan a July 17 meeting to talk about migration regulations.

Castro, 82, who replaced his older brother, Fidel, has allowed some reforms since he took over in 2008, including easing travel bans. He plans to step down in 2018, when his second five-year term in office ends. The United States has been in a stalemate with Cuba since 1961, when the elder Castro agreed to allow the former Soviet Union to house ballistic weapons in Cuba.

Even though Fidel Castro has not been in office for several years, Cuba is still on Washington's terrorism sponsors list.

In addition, Cuba is still detaining American Alan Gross, who was arrested in 2009 while in Cuba working for an International Development-funded program.

Cuban authorities sentenced Gross to 15 years in prison for illegally delivering satellite phones to Jewish Cubans.

The Washington meetings suggest a thaw in the two countries' relationships, a change that some U.S. lawmakers — particularly Cuban-American Republicans — criticize.

Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lethinen said Thursday that she and other Cuban-American lawmakers met with the democracy advocates, and she remains skeptical about changes and believes the embargo needs to continue until "Cuba becomes a free and democratic society."

The State Department isn't commenting about what was discussed at the Foggy Bottom meetings. William Ostick, a spokesman for the department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere said the State Department will continue its concern about the Cuban government's use of detention and violence against critics.


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