U.S. Policy on Cuba Evolving Under Obama

April 7, 2009 - 10:22 AM
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Washington (AP) - President Barack Obama will soon move to ease travel and financial restrictions on Cuba as his administration conducts a broad review of its policy toward the communist nation, a senior American official said Monday.
 
"We can expect some relaxation, some changes in terms of the restrictions on family remittances and family travel," said Jeffrey Davidow, the White House adviser for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which Obama will attend.
 
Davidow said Monday that the changes -- which officials say would allow unlimited visits to Cuba by American families and remove caps on money transfers -- are intended not only as a moral step for the estimated 1.5 million Americans who have relatives in Cuba, but also to foster change there.
 
"Cuban-Americans are the best possible ambassadors of our system and our values," Davidow said. He added, however, that the high hopes that some have for reforms since Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul last year have not yet been realized.
 
Davidow and other officials say the administration is also looking seriously at calls from some lawmakers to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba, appoint a special envoy to oversee policy toward the island and possibly end U.S. opposition to Cuba's membership in the Organization of American States.
 
"We are engaged in a continual evaluation of our policy and how that policy could help result in a change in Cuba that could bring about a democratic society," Davidow said.
 
He said he "would not be surprised" if a presidential announcement of the changes came before the April 17-19 summit being held in Trinidad and Tobago.
 
Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members.
 
Obama signed legislation last month that temporarily eased the restrictions so Americans with relatives in Cuba could now visit once a year, stay as long as they wish and spend up to $179 a day.
 
Davidow cautioned that the president is not now contemplating lifting the decades-old U.S. embargo on the island and has not yet seen any significant improvement in Cuba's human rights record.
 
"The fact remains that the situation in that country as it relates to the freedom of its own citizens does not seem to have changed with the departure of Fidel Castro from the presidency," Davidow said.
 
He declined to comment on whether Obama would go beyond taking the steps he had promised during his presidential campaign. But some officials said other incremental measures were likely.
 
"We're not going to see anything on lifting the embargo, it won't be an abrupt sea change, but things are moving in a different direction," said one official.
 
Some lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959.
 
In late March, a bipartisan group of senators, including Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed legislation that would prevent the president from stopping travel to Cuba by all Americans except in cases of war, imminent danger to public health or threats to the physical safety of U.S. travelers.
 
There is an identical bill in the House and seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus are visiting Cuba this week.