U.S. right to ease Cuba travel


POSTED: Saturday, April 18, 2009

President Barack Obama's decision to loosen restrictions on Cuban-Americans' freedom to visit and send money to relatives on the island nation fulfills a campaign promise, but more barriers should be lifted in the years ahead. The more U.S. freedom becomes apparent to Cubans, the sooner they will insist on bringing the Castro regime to an end.

Last August, Obama wrote in an opinion piece in the Miami Herald, “;Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island.”;

His announcement this week fulfills that promise, but lifting of the trade embargo on Cuba, which requires congressional approval, may be years away. In the meantime, the House and Senate are considering legislation to lift travel restrictions to Cuba for all Americans. Europeans have been spending vacations in Cuba for years.

Some Cuban-Americans are skeptical about a provision in the presidential order removing restrictions on money sent to Cubans by Cuban-American relatives. The Cuban government charges steep fees on such remittances.

The order also allows telecommunications companies to obtain licenses to operate in Cuba and increase access to cell phones and satellite television. The extent of such usage in questionable in a poor country - the average salary is $15 a month - that has the lowest rate of telephone, Internet and cell phone subscribers in Latin America.

As small a step as this might be, the order is a sharp reversal of the hard line taken by the Bush administration. It finally accepts the realization that the half-century of trying to isolate Cuba was a failure in pressuring the Castros out of power, serving only to put Cuba under the Soviet umbrella. Cuba now is reaping some benefits from the oil of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

Fidel Castro complains that Obama's order falls short of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, asserting that it “;is positive, however it is minimum.”; While Latin American leaders are urging that Cuba rejoin the Organization of American States, Castro says he is not interested. However, Castro and his brother, Raul, the president, both have expressed a desire to open dialogue with the U.S.

The Eisenhower administration imposed trade restrictions on everything except food and medical supplies, and President John F. Kennedy issued a permanent embargo in 1962, so Castro turned to the Soviet Union for trade. However, a 2001 agreement to sell food to Cuba following Hurricane Michelle has evolved into the U.S. becoming Cuba's main source of food, totaling $710 million in 2008.