Thursday, April 23, 2009

Americans Want Real Change in Cuba Policy

Americans Favor New Approach to Cuba: Lift the Travel Ban, Establish Diplomatic Relations

A majority of Americans feel that it is time to try a new approach to Cuba, according to a national poll by More specifically, the public favors lifting the ban on travel to Cuba for Americans and re-establishing diplomatic relations as well as other changes.

By a wide margin the American public believes that increasing trade and travel will lead Cuba to become more open and democratic rather than having the effect of strengthening the Communist regime.

These are among the findings of a new national poll of Americans on the subject of Cuba policy conducted March 25 - April 6, 2009 among 765 adults (margin of error +/- 3.7 percentage points).

Time for Changing US Policies

A majority (59%) of the American public endorses the view that it is "time to try a new approach to Cuba, because Cuba may be ready for a change". Thirty-nine percent of Americans endorsed the opposing position on this issue, that "the Communist Party is still in control; therefore the US should continue to isolate Cuba."

A clear majority of Democrats (71%) favor trying a new approach while Republicans are divided with 52 percent favoring continued isolation and 47 percent favoring a new approach. Independents are also divided (50% - new approach, 45% continued isolation).

The public, by a large majority, feels that US government leaders should be ready to meet with Cuban leaders. Overall 75 percent of those interviewed feel that US leaders should be willing to meet their Cuban counterparts; only 23 percent feel this is a bad idea. On this issue, partisan groups agree. A majority of Republicans (66%), independents (64%), and Democrats (86%) all have the view that US leaders should be ready to meet with Cuban leaders.

Travel to Cuba

The American public (70%) feels that in general Americans should be free to visit Cuba, and only a minority (28%) feels that Americans should be prohibited from visiting the island. Freedom for Americans to visit Cuba is broadly supported by Republicans (62%), by independents (66%), and by Democrats (77%). Lifting the prohibition on visiting Cuba would require a change in US policy that has been in place since 1963.

The public by a very large majority approves of this Obama Administration policy announced on March 11, 2009 which relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba for the purpose of visiting relatives (79% approve, 19% disapprove). Republicans show substantial majority support (71%) even though the policy change is clearly linked in the question and in press treatments to the new Democratic president. Independents (70%) and Democrats (90%) by large margins also support the policy change.

Diplomatic Relations

Americans likewise favor re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba by a clear majority - 69 percent favor, only 28 percent are opposed. All partisan groups support re-establishing diplomatic relations, though Democrats do so in larger numbers (82%) than Republicans (57%) or independents (58%).

To understand trends in American opinion, the diplomatic relations question was drawn from a question used by the Gallup organization in 2002, 04, 06, and 08. Over this period, the proportion of Americans which favors re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba has increased from 55% (2002, 2004), to 67% in 2006, 61% in 2008 and currently 69%. The Program on International Policy Attitudes asked a quite similar question in 1998 and found that 56% of Americans supported re-establishing relations. Other organizations (CNN, Associated Press) have also reported that a majority of Americans support diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the trend favoring diplomatic relations seems to be increasing.

Impact of US Travel and Trade

One of the core arguments in Cuba policy is whether increasing all kinds of contact between the US and Cuba - travel, trade, diplomacy - will strengthen the Castro regime or will have a liberalizing effect on the system.

Americans feel, by wide margins, that increasing travel and trade between Cuba and the United States is more likely to have the effect of leading "Cuba in a more open and democratic direction" (71%) than to "strengthen the Communist regime in Cuba" (26%). Clear majorities of Democrats (80%), independents (69%) as well as Republicans (59%) share this view.

The public is almost evenly divided, however, when asked specifically about the desirability of continuing the US trade embargo of Cuba or ending the embargo: 48% favor continuing the embargo and 49% favor ending it. Underlying this division is majority Democratic support (58%) for ending the embargo, independents who are divided (46% end the embargo, 49% continue), and majority support for continuing the embargo on the part of Republicans (59%).

Differences between partisan Democrats and Republicans on some aspects of Cuba policy should not be surprising in that they reflect central tendencies within the parties. While Cuba policy was not one of the major issues of the 2008 presidential campaign, the platforms of the two parties, and the positions of the candidates, differed on Cuba. The Democratic platform supported unlimited family visits and remittances; the Republican platform largely reiterated the policies of the Bush Administration. Obama-Biden campaign materials and comments by Senator McCain during the campaign tended to reflect these differences and were generally consistent with their respective party platforms.

The Associated Press - IPSOS poll posed an identical question on lifting the trade embargo in 2007 and found that 40 percent of the public favored ending the embargo. The 49% support for ending the embargo in the current 2009 study is a statistically significant increase from 2007. It appears that American public opinion is trending towards support for lifting the embargo, though it is not presently a majority view.

Appraisal of the Cuban Threat and American Policy

Few Americans feel that Cuba is a very serious threat (7%) to the United States, or even a moderately serious threat (27%). The majority sees Cuba as just a slight threat (33%) or no threat at all (30%) to the US.

This assessment is common across partisan groups: 51 percent of Republicans think Cuba poses little danger to the US, labeling it as "just a slight threat" or "no threat at all" and a clear majority of independents and Democrats (both 70%) see Cuba as being either a slight threat or no threat.

To gauge the public's assessment of the impact of US Cuba policy, respondents were told, "after Fidel Castro came to power, the US ended diplomatic relations, imposed a trade embargo, and prohibited Americans from traveling to Cuba" and were asked what effect they felt these policies have had on the Castro government. Only 29 percent of Americans overall feels that these policies have weakened the Castro government. About half of all Americans (52%) say the policies "neither weakened nor strengthened" the Castro government, and another16 percent say that the policies have strengthened the government. The assessment that US policies towards Cuba have been ineffective, that is, the policies have neither weakened nor strengthened the Castro government, or that they have strengthened it, is by far the most common view across each partisan group - Republicans (63%), Democrats (70%), and independents (73%).

US policies towards Cuba, particularly the embargo and the associated Helms-Burton Act which subjects to legal action non-US companies who trade with Cuba, have provoked ill feelings and criticism in Europe and among friendly countries in the Americas. Americans are divided on whether lifting restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba will affect the image of the US. While 42 percent say that lifting such restrictions would have mainly a positive effect on America's image in the world, 46 percent say it would have neither a positive or negative effect. Only 10 percent say it would have a mainly negative effect. Democrats are more likely (57%) to say lifting these restrictions would have a mainly positive effect than independents (31%) or Republicans (29%).

Among demographic variables, the respondent's education has the largest and most consistent effect on attitudes. People with more education (a bachelor's degree or higher vs. less than a bachelor's degree) are significantly more likely to favor a new Cuba policy 77 percent with a bachelor's degree or higher support re-establishing diplomatic relations, and 65 percent with less education. Similarly, 62 percent of the most educated favor ending the trade embargo and only 44 percent do so with less education.

A similar education effect appears in the public's views that: Cuba is just a slight threat or no threat to the US (rather than a serious threat); it is time to try a new approach to Cuba; it is a good idea for US leaders to be ready to meet with Cuban leaders; Americans in general should be free to visit Cuba; increasing travel and trade will lead Cuba in a more democratic direction; relaxing restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba will have a mainly positive effect on America's image in the world. The impact of higher education on attitudes about Cuba policy is consistent and fairly robust; those with more education show greater support for change and liberalization.

Overview of Partisan Differences and Similarities on Cuba Policy

Cuba policy has been an issue where the political parties have sometimes clashed. In this study, on nearly all questions one can observe statistical differences in views between Republican and Democratic partisans. Republicans do oppose lifting the trade embargo, whereas, Democrats favor ending it. However, on most of the other issues polled concerning Cuba policy, the majority of Republicans and the majority of Democrats agree.

• US government leaders should be ready to meet with Cuban leaders (Republicans 66%, Democrats 86%).
• The Obama Administration's relaxation of Cuban American travel restrictions are supported (Republicans 71%, Democrats 90%).
• Americans in general should be able to visit Cuba (Republicans 62%, Democrats 77%).
• Diplomatic relations with Cuba should be re-established (Republicans 57%, Democrats 82%).
• Increased travel and trade will lead Cuba in a more open, democratic direction (Republicans 59%, Democrats 80%).
• Cuba is "just a slight threat" or "no threat at all" to the US (Republicans 51%, Democrats 70%).

While issues related to Cuba are deeply felt and polarizing for some Americans, there appears to be a broad consensus in favor of more normal relations with the island.

The findings in this study are based upon a nationwide survey conducted March 25 - April 6, 2009 among 765 American adults (margin of error +/- 3.7 percentage points). This study was fielded by Knowledge Networks using its nationwide online panel. This panel is randomly selected from the entire adult population and Internet access is provided to households that need it. For more information about this methodology, go to is a project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. Funding for this research was provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Calvert Foundation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cuban American Support for Obama and All Travel

Posted on Wed, Apr. 22, 2009
Poll: Cuban Americans support Obama's Cuba plan
Lesley Clark
The Miami Herald
A majority of Cuban Americans support President Barack Obama and back his moves to improve relations with Cuba, according to a new poll that suggests the community's staunch support for a tough U.S. stance against the Castro government may be eroding.
The survey said 64 percent of respondents favor Obama's directive to lift all restrictions on remittances and visits by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they were opposed to the measure.
The telephone survey of 400 Cuban-American adults in Florida, New Jersey and other states was conducted in Spanish and English on April 15-16, days after Obama announced his administration would relax sanctions against Havana. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
"Ten years ago, you wouldn't have seen anything near these numbers. Now it's the reality of where the community is," said Fernand Amandi, a pollster with Miami's Bendixen & Associates, a Democratic firm that did the survey. "It's unprecedented to suggest that the community for the first time is aligned with a Democratic president when it comes to Cuba policy."
Though Obama stopped far short of endorsing travel for all Americans, the poll suggests he would have support for that measure, too. The poll found that two-thirds of Cuban American adults – 67 percent – support lifting travel restrictions so that all Americans could travel to Cuba.
Obama has said he supports keeping in place the 47-year-old economic embargo against Cuba and the survey notes that the community is split on maintaining the embargo. Forty-two percent of respondents believe it should be continued, while 43 percent believe it should be scrapped.
Amandi said the poll reflects that more recent arrivals from Cuba and second- and third-generation Cuban Americans "don't necessarily share the hard-line point of view their predecessors had" and that some older exiles may be "changing their minds as well.
"There would have been tremendous opposition to any kind of loosening of sanctions six or 10 years ago," Amandi said. "This represents a 180-degree change, a realization that after 50 years nothing has been done to bring liberty to Cuba."
Mauricio Claver Carone, a leading pro-embargo lobbyist, noted, however, that the three Miami Republican members of Congress who back hard-line sanctions – and criticized Obama for lifting the remittance cap entirely – were re-elected in November even as Obama garnered an estimated 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote in South Florida.
"The Cuban-American members of Congress who are considered hard-liners outperformed both presidential candidates in South Florida in every precinct," Claver-Carone said. "Which means that there are people who voted for Barack Obama and voted for these pro-embargo stalwarts. These polls are almost nonsensical."
But the poll finds Obama with "surprisingly high ratings from Cuban Americans" – a voting block that traditionally favors Republicans. Two-thirds of Cuban American adults in the poll – 67 percent – give Obama a favorable rating, while only 20 percent gave him an unfavorable rating.
"If I were a Republican strategist, I'd look at these numbers with some trepidation," Amandi said.
The poll suggests that the number of Cuban Americans who send money to relatives in Cuba will not increase significantly – 44 percent said they already send money – but that the amount of remittances will climb.
Thirty percent of respondents said they were planning to send more than $1,000 to their family members every year and 7 percent said they'd send more than $3,000 a year.
Under the Bush administration, remittances had been capped at $300 per quarter.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Axelrod and Summers on Sunday Shows

HARRY SMITH: The President eased travel restrictions with Cuba earlier this week. Raul Castro came
back and said we want to talk. The same question again applies to Cuba. What does Cuba have to put on
the table to say we actually are interested in having in-- more normal relations or something close to
normal relations?
DAVID AXELROD: Well, as you know, Mister Castro made an interesting speech in which he said
everything was on the table--human rights, political prisoners, democracy. He also said something
interesting. He said we may not have been right about some of our assumptions, which is the first time
we’ve heard that from the Cubans.
So if all of that pans out, it’s-- it’s an encouraging development. And certainly we’re going to pursue that.
But there are certain things that they should do right away. One is we’ve now eased remittances from
families here back to Cuba. The Cuban government should stop taking thirty percent off the top of that
money when it arrives.
We’ve suggested that our cabe-- our cellular companies can begin to negotiate contracts there. The
Cuban government should receive that and act on that, because it would be positive for both-- both Cuba
and the world for there to be free flow of communications.
HARRY SMITH: Although there are-- there are European companies that have cable and cellular
contracts there. I mean, it’s not like this is--
DAVID AXELROD: (Overlapping) No, but it would make an enormous difference if this was done.
And thirdly, they ought to begin to move on the issue of political prisoners. That would be a very positive
But look, there’s no doubt that the fifty years of policy we’ve had has not been very successful in
changing the realities on the island of Cuba. And this is an encouraging week.
HARRY SMITH: Any thought in the White House now to lifting the embargo?
DAVID AXELROD: Well, we’re a long way from that. As I said, there are-- there are many steps that need
to be taken. But we-- these are encouraging signs. And we intend to pursue them.

Meet the Press

MR. GREGORY: Cuba and a potential thaw between U.S. and Cuba relations has really dominated the summit business there, even though it hasn't officially been on the agenda. This week the administration eased up some of the restrictions on travel between Cuban-Americans going back to see relatives and also the flow of money, sending money back to relatives back in Cuba. Cuba has also signaled that it's willing to have a more open dialogue with the Obama administration, and increased calls for the U.S. to lift the embargo against Cuba. This is where the politics meets the economic. Under what circumstances would President Obama lift the 47-year-old embargo?
DR. SUMMERS: That's way down the road, and it's going to depend on what Cuba did--Cuba does going forward. You know, what the president announced this week is what he's been talking about for two years. It's a set of measures that are grounded in American interests, that are grounded in morality, letting families get back together, together again. Cuba's known what it needs to do for a very long time and it's up to them in terms of their policies, their democratization, all of the steps that they can take. And we'll have to see what happens down the road.
MR. GREGORY: What is the economic case for lifting the embargo?
DR. SUMMERS: Obviously it's, it's desirable to be able to trade in as many directions as possible. But fundamentally, David, this is an issue that's going to get decided on the basis of Cuba's behavior, on the basis of the steps that they, that they choose to take or that they choose not to take in terms of their policies in this hemisphere. And it's about really whether they want to rejoin the community of nations in Latin America or not. And we'll have to see, we'll have to see what they're prepared to do. The president's decisions are really going to be grounded in what's best for the United States.

Briefings for and at the Summit

April 19, 2009


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, I would, Jeff. And I think that we had a lot of reporting in the run-up about how there would be this big clash. We didn't see that. Saw a lot of run-up about how there will be a lot of fighting over Cuba. We didn't see that. Because frankly I think the President set a tone in making clear that there are certain things that all the people represented here today hold in common, and it's the one thing -- it's one of the things that Cuba doesn’t have, namely, democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of association.
And so some of the worries that people set up didn't materialize. I think that's because the President came down with a very senior team -- not necessarily represented in this room. (Laughter.) He came down with a very robust agenda on issues that are of intense mutual interest: security, narcotics trafficking and energy and climate. So I think the President wanted to -- as he made clear in his opening statement -- look forward, not look back, not get dragged into these stale debates of the past that marked for him and for many of us social studies projects in high school, but now these are actually people's lives that are in the balance. And I think they had a very workmanlike, work-person-like summit.
Q Speaking of Cuba, was there any discussion today -- can you tell us if there was any discussion today in the SICA meeting? (Central America Immigration System)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The word was never uttered in the room.
Q Which word?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Cuba. It didn't come up in the SICA meeting at all.

April 18, 2009


Q Yes, Denis, still on Cuba, coming into this Chavez and some of the others were insisting there have got to be changes, we've got to talk about lifting the embargo in the final summit communiqué. Are there going to be any changes or is that going to be exactly as it was negotiated all along, as you said?
MR. McDONOUGH: I don't anticipate any further changes in the communiqué. I haven't seen the most recent draft -- I don't know if Dan has. I think it's fair to say that there's a disagreement on Cuba and the President was clear on that.
April 18, 2009


Q We were told this morning, on Cuba, that the President was asked about this issue and was pressed by South American leaders to try to do more. I just wanted to see -- two quick points. Now that you've had a little bit of time to assess the developments over the last couple days, is it clear from the White House how you're viewing what Castro has said? Is this a breakthrough? Are you still in a wait-and-see mode?
MR. GIBBS: Well -- and I'll let these guys discuss what was said in the meeting -- and I'd reiterate what I said a second ago and even some yesterday on the plane.
The President believes, and believed throughout the campaign, that we should change our policy; at the same time, understanding that what some in the hemisphere and in this region want is also -- has to be up to the actions of the Cuban government.
I've said this, the President has said this throughout this trip, that if the Cuban government and people in this region desire greater freedom for the Cuban people, the Cuban government is free to take those actions. The Cuban government can release political prisoners. The Cuban government can stop taking money from remittances that -- and money that's being spent -- sent back into their country. They can do more on freedom of the press. There's a lot that the Cuban government can do to demonstrate its responsibilities and its willingness to change that relationship, as well.
I think the President is -- believed that the action that he took had to be taken and is pleased with the reaction that it's had thus far.
Q Are there any next steps for the U.S. government, though, beyond waiting to see what Cuba does on those points?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as we said earlier this week, we will continue to evaluate and watch what happens. We're anxious to see what the Cuban government is willing to step up to do. And I think the President believes that significant action has been taken, and by all accounts, Cuban Americans are planning for the first time in a while to travel back to Cuba and see friends and family that they otherwise wouldn't have been afforded to do except on a very minimal basis.
Q So the ball is still in the Cuban court?
MR. GIBBS: It always has been. It always has been. They --
Q But especially since Monday?
MR. GIBBS: Well, but even before Monday. I mean, you know, the -- you know, I can only imagine what you guys might do if the President gave a three-hour speech about -- about the care and concern for their people --
Q Is it fair to say since Monday's moves, you're looking for something reciprocal?
MR. GIBBS: But I think that -- hold on -- you know, but even before the President outlined changes in our policy related to Cuban Americans' travel and remittances, the Cuban government was and still is capable of making change.
I'm sorry, Major, what was your thing?
Q I'm saying, since Monday you're looking for more signs of reciprocation since the White House took some definitive moves toward liberalization of the relationship. It would seem natural to suspect that you would want them to take moves now in light of those actions.
MR. GIBBS: I think that's very fair to say. I think the -- I think as much as it's been a topic over the last few days, I think -- as I said earlier, actions are always going to speak louder than words regardless of how long those speeches are. And I think it's -- we're anxious to see the actions of the Cubans. As Denis and Larry said, the smiles and handshakes and the desire of one leader to say to the President that he wants to be his friend, again is a wonderful opportunity to match actions with words. And the President and others in the administration will be anxiously awaiting those new actions….
Q There was a question during the campaign about whether words matter. We're hearing very different kinds of words now from the Castro government. Does nothing change at all?
MR. GIBBS: I think the "words matter" might have been over a slightly different topic, but I'll indulge you on this instance. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks for that, and I'll indulge you in your sports analogies.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe we'll do this discussion in, oh, say, Ohio.
Q But -- so we're hearing very different rhetoric, very different kinds of words from the Castro government. Does this change nothing, though, in terms of the U.S. posture? I mean, are you saying then that nothing has changed, that you --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I don't --
Q -- even before you wanted to see action, now you want to see action --
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q Does this change nothing in relationships?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- look, I think -- I think it does -- I think we've certainly changed the relationship. I do think -- and I said this yesterday on the plane -- I think we have been and there have been instances in what was said over the past 48 hours that have struck us as a change in their rhetoric. I noted this off of a story that Raul Castro said that they were human beings and they could be wrong. That was most assuredly taken note of and discussed within our administration. We think that was a change in their rhetoric that we haven't seen in quite some time and one that certainly bears more investigation and more looking into on our side.
Do you want to add anything?
MR. McDonough: Yes, you know, I'd just say that -- as long as we're looking back a little bit -- the President has been talking about some of these steps that have been announced over the course of the last five days for two years now, and they're steps that the President has taken because he believes they are in our interest. He also believes that we ought to get out of the business of regulating contact between families, particularly after the difficult hurricanes that we saw in Cuba last fall.
The opportunity for family members to support their family members on the island in a way that gives them some of the basic, everyday needs, as the President talked about last night in the opening address, is something that he believes is a fundamental moral value, but is also something that is in our interest.
And he'll continue to evaluate the situation, the words, as Robert said, the admission that the Cuban government could be wrong. And he'll continue to evaluate that, but he'll continue to make decisions about these particular policy matters based not on what the Cuban government does or says, but based on what our interests dictate.

April 18, 2009


There was discussion of Cuba. This was brought up by more than one of the Latin America Presidents. There was a general appreciation for the steps that the President has announced and for his words last night. The President -- and there was some expression, as well, that these countries would like to see us go further, particularly in relation to lifting the embargo.
The President responded that he understands the importance of Cuba for Latin America. He said we are on a path of changing the nature of our relationship with that country. He said that change will not happen overnight. He is interested in dialogue but not talk for talk's sake. He said that everything that we do in relation to Cuba is informed by a real concern for democracy. And he made the point that the members of UNASUR are all democratically elected, and that democracy and the rule of law for the people of Cuba, in his view, is or should be a concern for them -- that is, the other leaders, as well….
Q Thank you, hi. I'm Laura Meckler, from The Wall Street Journal. I have two questions. One is, in his conversation about Cuba, did the President -- did President Obama at any point ask them to use their influence with the Castros to get them to make some sort of substantive move in response? And my second question is whether President Chavez was at this meeting, if there was any further interaction between he and President Obama?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First question was, did the President ask for any specific action on the part of the other countries vis-à-vis Cuba. The answer is the President talked in general terms about how everyone in the room was democratically elected, the goal of rule of law and democracy, respect for human rights is what motivates our policy in Cuba, and that he hoped that he would have cooperation from them in this….
Q Did Obama receive any requests from any President yesterday about going a little bit quicker and further on the Cuba issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's clear that, at least speaking of this meeting this morning, that in my view -- although it was not expressed by every one of them -- but I think all of the Presidents there would like to see us move expeditiously to lift the embargo.
Q When the President was discussing the U.S. goals for Cuba and talking about how a democratic Cuba is in everybody's best interest, what was the reaction by the other South American, Latin American leaders in the room?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think he -- the question is was there a particular reaction to the President. I think at that point actually, that was -- he was responding to comments that had been made, and so that was sort of the last word on Cuba. So there wasn't a specific response to what he said….
Q Would you say that Cuba took up 50 percent -- what percentage of the session did the discussion of Cuba take up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I think it was one of, I don't know, maybe 20 percent --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, it was one of multiple issues. In fact, it wasn't really the focus, it's just that it did come up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It came up, but it wasn't -- they didn't spend all their time talking about Cuba. They talked about cooperation, they talked about other issues. It was there, but it wasn't dominating. In fact, no one issue dominated.
Q Two questions. The President said and you reiterated that he came to listen, as well. So when he hears these leaders talking about lifting the embargo or moving to do it more expeditiously -- is he listening and does it affect his position, is my question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I can't speak for the President on that. I think he's laid out -- I think the best place was last night -- laid out his thinking on taking an initial step. He'd like to see the nature of the relationship change. This is going to take time. I think we have to see what kind of further steps are taken, including from Cuba, perhaps including from other countries.
Q One of the President's talking points these days since Mexico City, but also last night, and according to what you said at the meeting this morning, is that other countries in Latin America, instead of just being upset with the U.S. for imposing the embargo need to also look at the policies that the Cuban government imposes on its people that are behind the embargo. And I'm wondering what kind of response the President got when he talked about the fact that Cuba is not a democracy, for instance.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, this question was asked earlier, and the point was that the President's comment came at the end of a point or points made about Cuba by other speakers. It was a back-and-forth. And his comment was more by way of summary, in which he said, look, what guides us is our concern for democracy; you are democracies, as well, and we think that that should be a concern for you.
Q And there was no response?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the conversation did not go back and forth in a staccato manner. We moved on to another topic; I can't remember what it was.
Q Well, what about in other discussions that you and the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I did not hear the brief on other discussions.
Q Did the President -- did the President give any indication of where this relationship with Cuba now stands in terms of -- we've had Castro's comments, we've had reaction from the United States. Are there now -- did the President indicate or did anyone ask what happens next? Are there meetings planned or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, nobody asked that, and I don't have an answer for you. I think everybody realizes that we're taking some initial steps here, and let's see what happens.
Q Can you say there's a different standard for trade with Cuba than, say, with China? You say what guides us is the concern for democracy; we have enormous trade with China, but certainly they're not a democracy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, our relations with the -- each country in the world are a product of our history, our domestic politics. I think if you're arguing for consistency, it's something that we strive for but don't always reach. And that's, you know, that's obviously the case. And so, no, I'm not going to enter into a philosophical discussion.
Q Well, does the embargo still have more to do with politics than with diplomacy?
Q Come on. You could tell.
Q You actually could, yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I probably could. (Laughter.)
Q You're uniquely qualified to do that, I think.
Q When you say -- when you say the President wants dialogue, do you think the President might go to Cuba soon to speak with the Cubans?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. There was absolutely no discussion of that….
Q Did the discussion get past kind of microphone rhetoric -- did anybody bring an actual message from Cuba?

Q And on Cuba, the President has said for some time that Cuba has to take concrete steps for the U.S. to engage more with Cuba. Does that position still stand, that Cuba has to take those additional steps or concrete steps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I think what we are is at a beginning, an initiation of a new process. The President has been clear that our goals are to see a democratic Cuba. He's also been clear that there are many issues that we have that we could discuss with Cuba -- human rights being one of them -- but there are other issues that relate to just the nature of a relationship between two countries in the same hemisphere. Migration, for instance, is a big issue that I don’t believe we've had recent talks with Cuba about.
So, no, there's no concrete benchmarks that have been laid out. What we're talking about is a process here….
Q The President has been asking for help to -- the other countries to participate in this process towards Cuba. I would like to know what kind of help can they offer. Do you expect, for example, Brazil to be a mediator, a facilitator, or what kind of support?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is no request on the table by the President for any other country to be a mediator.
Q But when he speaks about helping, well, what does he mean?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think when he speaks about helping is the concern that we have that we live in a hemisphere of democracies, and for many of the countries, including many of the countries at the table this morning -- although he did not say it this way, I'm not putting words in the President's mouth -- they've lived through periods of dictatorship themselves and have a real understanding of what it means not to have a free press and open discussion and political parties and what have you. And that experience, perhaps, should in some way be reflected in how they deal with another dictatorship.
April 18, 2009


Then the CARICOM brought up the issue of Cuba. The President reiterated what he had said in his remarks earlier in the evening, in terms of his interest in a new relationship with Cuba, but making clear that he's made his first step in terms of significant promotion of a new policy in terms of the lifting of restrictions on remittances and travel of Cuban Americans that you're very familiar with by now. And that now what we need to see is change coming from the other side.

April 17, 2009


Q Following up on that, almost every speaker aside from the President called on the U.S. to stop its embargo of Cuba. And I know you've -- all of you have said in the last few days you'd like this summit not to be about Cuba. Is it, though, by way of what the leaders have already said?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, I think it's just started, obviously, and as I said I think the President believes that this is a very good opportunity to get to take advantage of all these heads of state and heads of government in one -- one location. And they have an awful lot of work to do.
And, Jeff, I think the President made very clear that we hope to see a new day in relations with Cuba. He reiterated what he has said in the past -- namely, that he believes and is very much open to his administration engaging with the Cubans, or with Cuba, on a variety of issues, and he enunciated that tonight.

April 17, 2009

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Q What's the reaction to the comments that Raul Castro made last night?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I think the strongest reaction that we've all had is the admission by Castro that they might well have been wrong. I think we were particularly struck by that.
But I think you guys have all heard the President talk, and the American people have all heard the President talk about this notion of a greater engagement of the Cuban people at a time and place of our choosing if that engagement could further our national interest.
He took some concrete steps, probably the first and most decisive steps in the past two decades to change our policy with Cuba during the past week by lifting travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and lifting restrictions for remittances. And I think he is -- that was keeping a campaign promise to change the policy -- to begin to change the policy with Cuba.
So -- and I think -- I mean, largely, I just don't think that this notion of engagement is anything that's a surprise to us because it's something that we've talked about.
Q Where does it go from here, based on any reaction to what he said? Does it change the state of play at all?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said last night, I still believe -- and as you heard the President say last night -- there are actions that the Cuban government can take beyond wanting to have any dialogue with the American government. They're certainly free to release political prisoners. They're certainly free to stop skimming money off the top of remittance payments as they come back to the Cuban island. They're free to institute a greater freedom of the press. There are a number of things that they're -- that they can and, we believe, should do to bring greater freedom to the Cuban people. And the President will address some of -- Cuba in his remarks tonight during the opening ceremony.
Q Robert, Castro said we have sent word to the U.S. government in private and in public that we're willing to discuss everything -- human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners -- everything. Two questions on that, following up what Peter said. Simply put, does President Obama believe him? Does he take Castro at his word?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think the rephrasing of the question changes my answer. Again, I think we were most struck by a few statements later saying they're human beings; they could have been wrong. That certainly stood out and struck us. But greater engagement at a time and place of our choosing has been something that the President has talked about for almost two years.
Q The President spoke yesterday about wanting to see signals from Cuba. Does this count, that kind of word?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we sent a signal earlier this week about our desire to change the policy. It was more than just talking for talking sake. It was change in relating the way Cuban Americans are able to travel and send money to their family and friends in Cuba. As I said yesterday, and as the President said, there are some concrete actions that the Cuban government can and should take, as well.
Q One other on this. When he says he's been communicating -- Cuba has been communicating in public and private, can you explain that at all -- how the two nations have been communicating?
MR. GIBBS: Occasionally the Cuban government gives lengthy speeches. I don't have any information on private communications….
Q One more question about Cuba. The President's remarks tonight -- are they in response to Raul Castro's remarks of last night -- were they written before?
MR. GIBBS: The bulk of the speech was. I'll check and see if anything has changed as a result of that. But the steps that the President had desired to take on Cuba had been out there for quite some time.
Q How did the President find out about Raul Castro's comments?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know who did; I'm sure somebody just showed him one of the stories.
Q Thank you.
Q Robert, does the President think the trade embargo has been -- has served its purpose?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's -- you could certainly debate the effect of the embargo, and I think the President is less concerned with the debate about the past and more concerned about how we move forward in our relationship. But, Mark, again, I would -- this is not a one-way street; this is a very busy two-way thoroughfare. And the steps that can be taken by one country can also be matched or met by steps taken by another country.
So this is -- this is a responsibility that each government has to its people and to the greater world community. And we hope that each nation is willing to understand those responsibilities and act on them.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Q We were told that President Obama spoke with Lula, the President of Brazil, today. Do we know what they talked about? The Brazilians are saying that they talked about Cuba. What else?
MR. RESTREPO: President Obama had a conversation with President Lula of Brazil today where they talked about the Summit of the Americas, on issues that may arise at that summit, and the need to work together to ensure that the summit remains focused on a positive agenda, a common agenda on these issues that are of paramount importance to the people of the Americas.
They had a lengthy conversation that touched on a host of issues -- I'm not going to go into great detail -- but the thrust of the conversation that they had was on how do we make sure that the summit engages pragmatically on the issues facing the people of the Americas today and how can we work towards forming effective partnerships on a host of issues to start the hard work of making progress on, again, the economic -- dealing with the economic crisis, on energy and climate future, and on issues related to citizens' safety.
Q Can I follow up on that? Who initiated the phone call?
MR. GIBBS: I think we did….
Q Are you guys worried that Cuba could overshadow or hijack the agenda?
MR. RESTREPO: No. I think we're -- we -- sorry -- I think the issues that face the Americas today, particularly the economic crisis and the effects of the economic crisis, are going to be the principal concern of the vast majority of the countries and leaders who come to the summit, will be the principal focus of the conversations -- in addition to those that are the summit topics, the original themes of the summit, obviously set before the economic crisis. So I think the real focus -- as evidenced by Vice President Biden's trip, Secretary Clinton's to the Americas, Secretary Clinton's trip here and other places in the Americas today -- people are focused on how do we deal with the economic crisis, how do we ensure that Latin America doesn't end up in another lost decade, and how to ensure that the economic growth that comes from recovery here reaches all levels of society. We're confident that that's going to be the principal issue of discussion at the summit. Other issues will be discussed, but I think the primary focus will be on the challenges that face the region today.
MR. GIBBS: And Chuck, let me -- I assume you've seen a transcript of what the President -- the President was asked about this -- the administration promised and took decisive action, making considerable changes in travel and remittance policy for Cuban Americans as it relates to Cuba. If there's going to be discussion about next steps, I think as the President said, the ball, so to speak, is probably in a different court.
If there are those that are serious about openness and freedom and any other concerns that might be enumerated by other leaders that attend this summit -- seeing an increased freedom of the press; seeing a release of political prisoners; as Dan and I talked about the other day in announcing the policy, seeing the Cuban government walk away from taking a hefty portion of remittances that do come back to the island; allowing citizens to travel, as the President said.
We'd be interested to know what the leaders in Cuba and what leaders that might be coming to the summit with that issue on their mind, what they're willing to do and talk about with those in order to demonstrate that there's a willingness to see something happen on the other side. I think that could actually produce something that's worthwhile as well….

Q Robert, back on Cuba. Just to pick up on what you said, the ball being in someone else's court. I just want to make sure I understand -- in Trinidad-Tobago will the President say his administration is not going to make any more moves regarding liberalization of relationships with Cuba until there are definitive actions by the Cuban government on the things you've outlined, and that no amount of pressure or jawboning or complaining; and the advocates who will be there speaking on behalf of the Cuban government could change that policy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll do this, then I'll have Dan do this, as well. The administration and the President have taken significant steps. We certainly continually evaluate the foreign policy of the United States. I think the President was pretty clear in the campaign about the steps for further action that needed to happen in order for us to believe that there was a seriousness on both sides about a different sort of relationship.
Again, I think the steps that the President took -- I don't want to minimize the steps that he took in this process, and I think, again, you know, we talked a little bit about, in the announcement, opening up of communications, including satellite television. To use my "ball in the court" analogy, if the government in Cuba -- I don't know why the government in Cuba would feel threatened by the free flow of information from other countries to their citizens. I don't think it would threaten the Cuban government for somebody in Cuba to be able to watch one of its pitchers throw a baseball game.
And I think if -- I've finally worked my baseball analogy into a serious policy answer. I'm altogether fairly pleased about that. (Laughter.) But, again, I think that we will see and judge the seriousness of this versus the rhetoric of this based not simply on the actions that we've already taken but by the actions that others can and, we believe, should undertake….
Q Can I follow on that. The President, Hugo Chavez, say that he would veto the declaration of the summit because it made no mention of the exclusion of Cuba from the summit. How serious do you consider that threat to be?
AMBASSADOR DAVIDOW: The declaration of the summit is a document, a fairly lengthy document that's been negotiated for the last nine months by all 34 countries, including Venezuela. It's been a laborious process of negotiation. Many of Venezuela's points were accepted, as were the points of the United States and other countries.
This decision to -- as announced -- to not sign the document is something that just came up in the last day or so, and is inconsistent with the negotiations that have been going on for almost a year.
Q Can I just follow-up on that specific point -- it's just that Nicaragua and Bolivia have also said that -- because the document doesn’t talk about the lifting of the embargo, that they wouldn't sign.
MR. McDONOUGH: As Ambassador Davidow was saying, the declaration process -- these declarations on some occasions have been signed by the member states at the summit, and other occasions they have not been signed by the member states as a group.

Obama Opening Statement and Press Conference at Summit

April 17, 2009


And we've heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people….
…There's been several remarks directed at the issue of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, so let me address this. The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know that there is a longer -- (applause) -- I know there's a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day. I've already changed a Cuba policy that I believe has failed to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people. We will now allow Cuban Americans to visit the islands whenever they choose and provide resources to their families -- the same way that so many people in my country send money back to their families in your countries to pay for everyday needs.
Over the past two years, I've indicated, and I repeat today, that I'm prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues -- from drugs, migration, and economic issues, to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform. Now, let me be clear, I'm not interested in talking just for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction.
As has already been noted, and I think my presence here indicates, the United States has changed over time. (Applause.) It has not always been easy, but it has changed. And so I think it's important to remind my fellow leaders that it's not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look towards the future. (Applause.)
I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere.

April 19, 2009


This summit has been held at a time of great challenge and great opportunity for the United States and the Americas. The consequences of a historic economic crisis are being felt across the hemisphere, putting new pressure on peoples and governments that are already strained. Migration to and from each of our nations has serious implications for all nations. The safety and security of our citizens is endangered by drug trafficking, lawlessness and a host of other threats. Our energy challenge offers us a chance to unleash our joint economic potential, enhance our security and protect our planet. And too many citizens are being denied dignity and opportunity and a chance to live out their dreams in Cuba and all across the hemisphere.
These are some of the issues I discussed here in Trinidad and Tobago with leaders like President Garcia of Peru, President Bachelet of Chile, President Uribe of Colombia, President Preval of Haiti, and Prime Minister Harper of Canada. The subject of many of these meetings and conversations has been launching a new era of partnership between our nations. Over the past few days, we've seen potential positive signs in the nature of the relationship between the United States, Cuba and Venezuela. But as I’ve said before, the test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds. I do believe that the signals sent so far provide at least an opportunity for frank dialogue on a range of issues, including critical areas of democracy and human rights throughout the hemisphere.
I do not see eye to eye with every regional leader on every regional issue. And I do not agree with everything that was said at this summit by leaders from other nations. But what we showed here is that we can make progress when we're willing to break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long. We showed that while we have our differences, we can -- and must -- work together in areas where we have mutual interests, and where we disagree we can disagree respectfully. We showed that there are no senior or junior partners in the Americas; we're simply partners, committed to advancing a common agenda and overcoming common challenges….

But I firmly believe that if we're willing to break free from the arguments and ideologies of an earlier era and continue to act, as we have at this summit, with a sense of mutual responsibility and mutual respect and mutual interest, then each of our nations can come out of this challenging period stronger and more prosperous, and we can advance opportunity, equality, and security across the Americas….
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said during the summit that you were here not to debate the past. You also said we must learn from our history. You just referred to this history. What have you learned over two days of listening to leaders here about how U.S. policy is perceived in the region? And can you name a specific policy that you will change as a result of what you've heard?
…One thing that I thought was interesting -- and I knew this in a more abstract way but it was interesting in very specific terms -- hearing from these leaders who when they spoke about Cuba talked very specifically about the thousands of doctors from Cuba that are dispersed all throughout the region, and upon which many of these countries heavily depend. And it's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence and have -- have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region.
And I think that's why it's so important that in our interactions not just here in the hemisphere but around the world, that we recognize that our military power is just one arm of our power, and that we have to use our diplomatic and development aid in more intelligent ways so that people can see very practical, concrete improvements in the lives of ordinary persons as a consequence of U.S. foreign policy….
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You've heard from a lot of Latin America leaders here who want the U.S. to lift the embargo against Cuba. You've said that you think it's an important leverage to not lift it. But in 2004, you did support lifting the embargo. You said, it's failed to provide the source of raising standards of living, it's squeezed the innocent, and it's time for us to acknowledge that this particular policy has failed. I'm wondering, what made you change your mind about the embargo?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, 2004, that seems just eons ago. What was I doing in 2004?
Q Running for Senate.
THE PRESIDENT: Is it while -- I was running for Senate. There you go. Look, what I said and what I think my entire administration has acknowledged is, is that the policy that we've had in place for 50 years hasn’t worked the way we want it to. The Cuban people are not free. And that's our lodestone, our North Star, when it come to our policy in Cuba.
It is my belief that we're not going to change that policy overnight, and the steps that we took I think were constructive in sending a signal that we'd like to see a transformation. But I am persuaded that it is important to send a signal that issues of political prisoners, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democracy -- that those continue to be important, that they're not simply something to be brushed aside.
What was remarkable about the summit was that every leader who was participating was democratically elected. We might not be happy with the results of some elections; we might be happier with others; we might disagree with some of the leaders, but they all were conferred the legitimacy of a country speaking through democratic channels. And that is not yet there in Cuba.
Now, I think that as a starting point, it's important for us not to think that completely ignoring Cuba is somehow going to change policy, and the fact that you had Raul Castro say he's willing to have his government discuss with ours not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners, that's a sign of progress.
And so we're going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners. They could reduce charges on remittances to match up with the policies that we have put in place to allow Cuban American families to send remittances. It turns out that Cuba charges an awful lot, they take a lot off the top. That would be an example of cooperation where both governments are working to help Cuban families and raise standards of living in Cuba.
So there are going to be some ways that the Cuban government I think can send some signals that they're serious about pursuing change. And I'm hopeful that over time the overwhelming trend in the hemisphere will occur in Cuba, as well. And I think that all of the governments here were encouraged by the fact that we had taken some first steps. Many of them want us to go further, but they at least see that we are not dug in into policies that were formulated before I was born….

Friday, April 17, 2009

More Positive Indicators from the Summit

OAS, US warm up to Cuba after Raul Castro overture

By VIVIAN SEQUERA – 35 minutes ago

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) — The head of the Organization of American States said Friday that he will ask its members to readmit Cuba 47 years after they ousted the communist nation. And in another step toward improving relations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Cuban President Raul Castro's latest comments a "very welcome gesture."

After a series of overtures by U.S. President Barack Obama, Castro said Thursday that he is ready to talk with the U.S. and put "everything" on the table, even questions of human rights and political prisoners.

That prompted a warm response from Clinton: "We welcome his comments, the overture they represent and we are taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond."

As leaders of 34 nations converged on Trinidad for the Summit of the Americas — an OAS-sponsored gathering that includes every nation in the region but communist Cuba — expectations were soaring for a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations that have been largely frozen since the Cold War.

Things seemed to be moving quickly. Obama and Clinton had earlier said that Havana needs to reciprocate after Obama's "good faith" gesture of removing restrictions on some American money and travel to Cuba. But Raul Castro's conciliatory response seemed to be enough to move things forward even without a more concrete move on U.S. sticking points.

"We're going step by step," OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said, explaining that he will ask the group's general assembly in May to annul the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba.

Other leaders arriving in Trinidad also offered to help. Jamaica's prime minister, Bruce Golding, said the 15-member Caribbean Community is willing to mediate any Cuba-U.S. talks on easing tensions and lifting the decades-old American trade embargo against Cuba.

Golding told The Associated Press that Caricom leaders also agreed to not push Obama too hard on the issue during the summit.

"I'm hoping that nothing is done that will make the process more difficult and that we seek to encourage further progress rather than cause the situation once again to become polarized and intractable," he said.

Washington provides more than 70 percent of the OAS budget, which affords it certain privileges. And for 47 years, the Washington-based organization has officially considered Cuba's communist system to be incompatible with its principles.

But there is a growing clamor in the region to end efforts to isolate Cuba, not just from Raul and Fidel Castro's close friends, but also from conservative U.S. allies like Mexico.

Raul Castro spoke Thursday at a meeting of leftist leaders in Venezuela who vowed to represent Cuba's interests in Trinidad. Vehemently defending his government's resistance to the U.S., he said "the OAS should disappear" and that Cuba would never want to join the organization he called a tool of the U.S.

"The North Sea will unite with the South Seas, a serpent will be born from an eagle's egg before Cuba joins the OAS," Castro said.

Inzulza said Castro's feelings are only natural: "If my country were suspended from an organization for nearly 50 years I'd be very upset."

Castro's other comments about negotiating with the U.S. represented the most conciliatory language that either Castro brother has used with any U.S. administration since that of Dwight D. Eisenhower in early 1961, when the nations broke off relations.

Raul Castro has previously said he would be willing to discuss all issues with Obama. But Cuban officials have historically bristled at including human rights or political prisoners in the talks, saying such matters are none of the Yankees' business.

Now, he even suggested that "many other things" could be up for discussion. "We could be wrong, we admit it. We're human beings," Castro said. "We're willing to sit down to talk as it should be done, whenever."

Castro said his only conditions are that Washington treat his government as an equal, and respect "the Cuban people's right to self-determination."

Most Cubans, however, likely heard little about these overtures, unless they watched TV using illegal satellite hookups.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma on Friday did not carry Castro's comments about the U.S., focusing instead on his talks on regional matters with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other Latin American leaders. Granma also ignored Obama's statements about Cuba, and dealt instead with Mexican President Felipe Calderon's call to drop the embargo.

And Fidel Castro, who still pens enormously influential columns from the sidelines of power, was silent on Friday.

Obama said a relationship frozen for 50 years "won't thaw overnight." But their words seemed as historic as any that leaders of the two nations have made to one another.

Relations warmed briefly during Jimmy Carter's administration, adding direct flights between Miami and Havana and opening interests sections in lieu of embassies in each country. But that honeymoon soon ended with a refugee crisis when 125,000 Cubans fled to the United States from the Mariel port west of Havana in 1980.

Warming relations under Bill Clinton were put in the freezer after Cuban fighter jets shot down two civilian planes off the island's coast in 1996, killing the four exiles aboard.

Obama said he acted in good faith to lift restrictions on visits and money sent by Americans with families on the island — steps he called "extraordinarily significant" for the families. But he ruled out a unilateral end to the embargo, even as Clinton said Friday that "we vew the present policy as having failed."

No one should expect a sudden, major breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations, but these latest developments should not be lightly dismissed, said Peter DeShazo, a Latin America expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former U.S. diplomat.

"These are very preliminary steps," he said in a telephone interview in Washington. "But they are significant" not only as symbolic gestures of good will but also as building blocks of a foundation for a new relationship.

Associated Press writers Christopher Toothaker in Cumana, Venezuela, Frank Bajak and Bert Wilkinson in Trinidad; and Anita Snow in Havana and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

AP Story on Dramatic Obama and Castro Statements

US, Cuban presidents open door for new relations

By BEN FELLER Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
April 16, 2009

MEXICO CITY — The new presidents of the United States and Cuba, in a surprisingly direct exchange, appeared to open the door Thursday for negotiations toward a new relationship between the two countries divided by 90 miles of water and 50 years of cold war.

After removing some of the restrictions that lock Americans and their money out of Cuba in what he called a show of good faith, Barack Obama said Thursday that it was up to Havana to take the next step.

Within hours, Raul Castro replied from a summit in Venezuela: "We have sent word to the U.S. government in private and in public that we are willing to discuss everything — human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything."

That was the boldest and most conciliatory language Castro or his brother Fidel — who handed him the presidency a year ago after falling ill — have used with any U.S. administration since that of Dwight D. Eisenhower in early 1961, when the nations broke off relations. It appeared to be a transcendent development, the best opportunity for talks in a half-century.

Raul Castro has previously said he would be willing to discuss all issues with Obama. But Cuban officials have historically bristled at the suggestion that they might discuss human rights or political prisoners with the Americans, saying such matters are none of the Yankees' business.

Talking about the issues, of course, is no guarantee that Cuba is ready to offer the reciprocity Obama says the U.S. needs to see before making any more changes in its policies toward the island. And Fidel Castro, who still pens enormously influential columns from the sidelines of power, could still throw a bucket of cold water on the conciliation.

Indeed, Obama said a relationship frozen for 50 years "won't thaw overnight."

But their words seemed as historic as any that leaders of the two nations have made to one another.

Relations warmed briefly during Jimmy Carter's administration, which featured short-lived direct flights between Miami and Havana and the opening of interests sections that provide some contact in lieu of embassies. But that short honeymoon ended with a refugee crisis that saw about 125,000 Cubans flee to the United States from the Mariel port west of Havana.

Warming relations under Bill Clinton also were put in the freezer after Cuban fighter jets shot down two civilian planes off the island's coast, killing the four exiles aboard.

Raul Castro said his only conditions for talks now are that Washington treat them as a conversation between equals and respect "the Cuban people's right to self-determination."

Earlier this week, Obama lifted restrictions on visits and money sent to Cuba by Americans with families there — steps he called "extraordinarily significant" for those families.

On a visit to Mexico City, Obama said Cuba needs to reciprocate to his overtures with actions "grounded in respect for human rights," possibly including lifting its own restrictions on Cubans' ability to travel and to voice their opinions.

President Castro did not mention Obama's comments specifically — and stopped short of promising any action.

"We're willing to sit down to talk as it should be done, whenever," he said, while also condemning decades of efforts by Washington to undermine the Cuban government. "What's going on is that now ... whoever says anything, they immediately start (talking about) democracy, freedom, prisoners."

Both leaders signaled that deep problems remain in their relationship.

Obama said the U.S. won't unilaterally end its trade embargo against Cuba, even though the policy is widely seen as a failure that has complicated U.S. relations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Castro called for the release of five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. after being convicted of espionage, and denounced U.S. funding for opponents of his government.

"I'm confirming it here today: If they want the freedom of those political prisoners, who include some confessed terrorists ... free our prisoners and we'll send them to you with their families and whatever they want," he said.

Obama spoke at a news conference after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who called the U.S. embargo a failed strategy. Asked what the U.S. should do on Cuba to improve its image across Latin America, Calderon said "we do not believe that the embargo or the isolation of Cuba is a good measure for things to change."

Before Obama spoke, a similar message was sent by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on a visit to Haiti.

"We stand ready to discuss with Cuba additional steps that could be taken," she said. "But we do expect Cuba to reciprocate."

"We would like to see Cuba open up its society, release political prisoners, open up to outside opinions and media, have the kind of society that we all know that would improve the opportunities for the Cuban people and for their nation," she said.

Castro spoke at a meeting of leftist leaders in the seaside Venezuelan city of Cumana, in advance of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, where Obama and most leaders of the Americas will meet beginning Friday.

Castro is not invited because his country is not democratic — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the U.S. position a "show of disrespect."


Associated Press writers Jonathan M. Katz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Christopher Toothaker in Cumana, Venezuela, and Anita Snow in Havana contributed to this report.

Cuba Dialogue at Obama Calderon Press Conference

President Obama, you said in an op-ed that was out today that your new Cuba policy was part of an effort to move beyond the frozen disputes of the 20th century. Why then is it so limited? Why not open the door for all Americans to visit Cuba? And what will you say to your colleagues at the Summit of the Americas who want you to do more?

And, President Calderon, what do you think the United States should do more on Cuba in order to improve relations with the region? Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I don't think that we should dismiss the significance of the step that we took. We eliminated
remittance restrictions and travel restrictions for Cuban Americans who have family members in Cuba. For those families, this is extraordinarily significant. For the people in Cuba who will benefit from their family members being able to provide them help and to visit them, it's extraordinarily significant.
We took steps on
telecommunications that can potentially open up greater lines of communication between Cuba and the United States.

And so I think what you saw was a good-faith effort, a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast our
. Now, a relationship that effectively has been frozen for 50 years is not going to thaw overnight. And so having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interest to see whether Cuba is also ready to change. We don't expect them to change overnight. That would be unrealistic. But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they're interested in liberalizing in such a way that not only do U.S.-Cuban relations improve, but so that the energy and creativity and initiative of the Cuban people can potentially be

We talk about the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, but there's not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere and the severe restrictions that they're under. I make that point only to suggest that there are a range of steps that could be taken on the part of the Cuban government that would start to show that they want
to move beyond the patterns of the last 50 years.

I'm optimistic that progress can be made if there is a spirit that is looking forward rather than backward. My guidepost in U.S.-Cuba policy is going to be how can we encourage Cuba to be respectful of the rights of its people: political speech and political participation, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of travel. But, as I said before, I don't expect things to change overnight. What I do insist on is that U.S.-Cuban relationships are grounded with a respect not only for the traditions of each countrybut also respect for human rights and the people's -- the needs of the people of Cuba.

And so I hope that the signal I've sent here is, is that we are not trying to be heavy-handed. We want to be open to engagement. But we're going to do so in a systematic way that keeps focus on the hardships and struggles that many Cubans are still going through.

PRESIDENT CALDERON: I would not pretend to give advice or suggestions to President Obama on this matter or any other. Let me just say what I personally believe -- or rather what I believe about the Cuban reality. The question that has to be posed rather is whether the U.S. embargo on Cuba has worked. The reality is that the embargo has been there long before we were even born, and yet things have not changed
all that much in Cuba. I think we would have to ask ourselves whether that isn't enough time to realize that it has been a strategy that has not been very useful to achieve change in Cuba.

I do think -- I share fully the idea we do not believe that the embargo or the isolation of Cuba is a good measure for things to change in Cuba. On the contrary; the reality that we see there is that the reality has not changed. And it's because of internal factors, mostly, of course, but also because of external reasons,such as the embargo. Because of that, the Cubans have become impoverished.

I greet -- I welcome the measures that President Obama has taken in order to change this attitude, and to try to attempt -- and the attempt must be appreciated -- to change the policy towards Cuba little by little. But what is clear to me is that we both share the same ideals. I think we would both like to see the world living at
some point under a full democracy, a world with full respect for human rights, with no exceptions whatsoever. We would like to see a world working with people being able to take care of their families, to live in peace, and those principles that must protect humanity. That we do share.

We also share the idea that each nation must be respected in its own decisions. It's like we were saying a moment ago when we were talking about the prohibition of assault weapons. Of course, we do not want those weapons to be out in the streets, but at the same time we want those decisions to come from the people themselves and to be self-determinant. And it's the same for Cuba. But I believe that the
steps President Obama has taken are very positive.

Mexico is a good friend of Cuba, and Mexico is also a good friend of the United States. We want to be a good friend of Cuba and of the United States. We want both things. And we know that one day, the day that these principles we believe in prevail, that day we will be able to be neighbors, the three of us -- the United States, Cuba and Mexico.

What are the principles we believe in? Democracy, human rights, but also liberty, property, trade, free trade, free economy. And I think as long as those principles can function and bring benefits to the Cuban economy, then things can begin to change. We cannot change anything that has already taken place in the past, but I am certain that as heads of state, we can do a lot to try to make a different
future, both for the world, both for our countries, and also in relation to Cuba.

I told President Obama that the best of luck in this panorama that is now so totally different from what U.S. policy has been in the past. I hope for the best, and I hope that more expeditious steps could be taken so that we can move forward in this regard, and that everything will be done with good understanding. And as Mexico can contribute in any way for two of our friends to work out what they have between themselves, I hope that we can contribute. And if our best contribution is just to maintain our respect, that is fine.

Office of the Press Secretary
(Mexico City, Mexico)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Detroit Free Press Lauds Obama's Mature Policy

White House sets more mature policy on Cuba

Detroit Free Press Editorial

April 16, 2009

Nobody is leaping to any hasty conclusions, but it looks as though the Obama administration is ready to concede that Washington's trade embargo against Cuba, imposed half a century ago in an effort to force a young upstart named Fidel Castro from power, has been a spectacular bust.

In what those on both sides of the Florida Straits acknowledged as the most significant change in Cuban-American relations since the Kennedy administration, the White House this week relaxed restrictions on Cuban exiles' ability to visit and send money to family members on the island. Under a new executive order, Cuban Americans will be able to visit as often as they like and send as much money as they want to any Cuban who is not a senior government or Communist Party official.

The order disappointed Latin American leaders who would like the United States to normalize trade relations with Cuba and its leader, Raul Castro, but it also signals an unmistakable retreat from Cold War policies that likely did more to inhibit Cuba's democratic movement than Fidel Castro's Communist Party.

In an age when the United States enjoys robust commerce with China, Syria and Iran, among others, the Cuban trade embargo is a glaring anachronism. So is the travel ban that forbids Americans not born in Cuba from traveling to the island. The House and Senate are considering legislation that would end travel restrictions for all U.S. citizens, a welcome sign that Congress, too, is warming to a more grown-up strategy of engagement.

The impulse to isolate Cuba has always betrayed a curious and unwarranted lack of confidence in the power of example. There is every reason to believe that increasing Cuba's exposure to American products, American currency and Americans themselves would strengthen the island's democratic impulse, and no reason to fear that normalization would confer legitimacy on a regime that has been enjoying all the legitimacy it needs for five decades.

Now that President Barack Obama has finally nudged the door to normalized relations open, there's less than ever to be gained by lingering outside.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Latin American and Caribbean Expectations on Cuba

Latin Leaders Will Push Obama to End Cuban Embargo at Summit

April 13 (Bloomberg) -- When Barack Obama arrives at the fifth Summit of the Americas this week, Cuba will be at the heart of the U.S. relationship with the rest of the hemisphere, exactly as it has been for half a century.

While Latin American leaders split on many issues, they agree that Obama should lift the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. From Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez to Mexico’s pro- business Felipe Calderon, leaders view a change in policy toward Cuba as a starting point for reviving U.S. relations with the region, which are at their lowest point in two decades.

Obama, born six months before President John F. Kennedy imposed the embargo, isn’t prepared to support ending it. Instead, he will likely try to satisfy the leaders at the April 17-19 summit in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, with less ambitious steps -- such as repealing restrictions on family visits and remittances to Cuba that were imposed by former President George W. Bush.

That would mesh with his stated goal of changing the perception of “U.S. arrogance” that he attributed to his predecessor in his sole policy speech on the region last May.

“All of Latin America and the Caribbean are awaiting a change in policy toward Cuba,” Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Washington-based Organization of American States, said in an interview. “They value what Obama has promised, but they want more.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

White House Statement and Briefing on Family Travel

The text of the White House Statement on family travel can be found here:

The intellectually dubious reasons for taking a morally proper action can be found in the White House press briefing below.

April 13, 2009



MR. GIBBS: Before we do our regularly scheduled program, I’ve got a short announcement. And I am joined for the bilingual portion of this announcement by Dan Restrepo, a Special Assistant to the President and a Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council.

Today, President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country’s future. The President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba, and to send them remittances. He’s further directed that steps be taken to enable the freer flow of information among the Cuban people and between those in Cuba and the rest of the world, as well as to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian items directly to the Cuban people.

In taking these steps to help bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and to promote the increased flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people, President Obama is working to fulfill the goals he identified both during his presidential campaign and since taking office.

All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens. President Obama believes the measure he has taken today will help make that goal a reality. He encourages all who share it to continue their steadfast support for the Cuban people.

MR. RESTREPO: Thanks, Robert. (Speaking Spanish.)

MR. GIBBS: And while we have Dan here, if there are some specific questions on this we’ll be happy to take them.

Q Is this a first step toward diplomatic recognition?

MR. RESTREPO: This is a step to extend a hand to the Cuban people in support of their desire to determine their own future. It’s very important to help open up space so the Cuban people can work on the kind of grassroots democracy that is necessary to move Cuba to a better future. The President promised this during the campaign and he is making good on that promise today to extend his hand to the Cuban people, to ensure that they have more independence from the regime and the ability to start working down the path that we all want to see them succeed on.

Q Does it mean between the two countries that you have diplomatic relations?

MR. RESTREPO: This is reaching out to the Cuban people.

Q So the answer is what?

MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, what was the --

Q I'm trying to find out if there's a movement towards the two countries getting together and having a diplomatic recognition.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think in many ways that depends on the actions of the Cuban government. The action that the President took today is one that allows -- one that allows families to visit families, one that allows families to send back some of their hard-earned money to help their family members. And I think maybe the best way to sum this up is the way the President summed this up last year -- to say that there are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans. He said, and I quote, "It's time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It's time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent on the Castro regime."

Q Would the President like to see an improvement of relations, where you actually have some sort of --

MR. GIBBS: The President would like to see greater freedom for the Cuban people. There are actions that he can and has taken today to open up the flow of information to provide some important steps to help that. But he's not the only person in this equation.

Q Robert, several Republicans from Florida are charging today this is a mistake because they think it's going to -- they're claiming that it will mean something like hundreds of millions of dollars in money that winds up in the hands of the dictatorship. How do you answer that charge? And is there a way that you can specifically structure this so that you make it more likely that the money that gets -- actually get in the hands of the Cuban people and not the dictatorship?

MR. RESTRETO: There's two answers. One is that we think the positive benefits here will way outweigh any negative effects that there may have; that creating independence, creating space for the Cuban people to operate freely from the regime is the kind of space they need to start the process towards a more democratic Cuba.

And also the President is very clear that we're getting the United States out of the business of regulating the relationship between Cuban families. The Cuban government should get out of the business of regulating the relationship between Cuban families. It should stop charging the usurious fees that it does on these remittances. The call is very clear that that be done in addition to what we are doing.

But we are getting ourselves out. The Cuban government should get itself out of the way, and allow Cuban families to support Cuban families -- that creates the kind of space, in our view, that is necessary to move Cuba forward to a free and democratic Cuba.

Q In that same speech in Miami that you referenced, the President, as a candidate, said he would talk directly to the Cuban government without preconditions, but with a clear agenda. But he's also said that he's not going to lift the trade embargo because there are certain steps he wants the government to take that -- you know, and not give up that leverage first. So it kind of sounds like he's saying two things: first, it's talk without preconditions; then setting conditions in order for relations to move forward.

MR. GIBBS: And you may have something on this, too, but I think that -- I think the President has made clear that he is willing to talk to our adversaries. I think at the same time the President has said repeatedly that that is not talk for talk's sake, whether that's with -- well, whether that -- despite what adversary that might be.

But I think that the actions that were taken today are intended to, as I said, open up the flow of information, to facilitate that information from getting directly to the -- facilitate it getting directly to the Cuban people, and to set up a system whereby we see some results. And I think the President is willing to do that.

Q But are there conditions before he will engage the government directly or not --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I do think there are steps that we would -- that the Cuban government can and must take, and I think, as Dan said, the actions that the government undertakes regarding remittances should stop immediately.

Do you have anything to add to that?

Yes, sir.

Q Why are you and Dan making this announcement and not the President? I mean, he's here, right -- he's in the building?

MR. GIBBS: He is. He's -- I think he's in his office, yes.

Q Probably hearing the vibrations from the music.

MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, hearing the dance music, not unlike I am. (Laughter.)

Q Yes. So why isn't he making the announcement? Why -- I mean, it looks like as if you were trying to avoid having his voice and picture --

MR. GIBBS: I'll certainly try not to take any of that personally. (Laughter.) And I noticed the music stopped right as you asked. (Laughter.)

No, I mean, Chuck, I -- a few people showed up to today's briefing. I don't --

Q But this isn't a small talk -- this isn't a small change of policy. So having the President not talk to the camera about it seems to be a little like a political decision.

MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I'm standing in the White House briefing room as the spokesperson for the President of the United States. I assume that when you ask me questions when we get to pirates or anything else, that my answer won't seem less than what any President would make. As I undertake that task, the President is doing today what the President promised he would do, not only on camera, but in Florida many months ago.

So I think this is less about the so-called "choreography" of some announcement, and more -- has to do with the fact that the President is taking some concrete steps today to bring about some much needed change that will benefit the people of Cuba: to increase the freedom that they have, and more importantly, to allow Cuban Americans to see their families and to send them money.

Q Daniel, do you know -- is the Cuban government going to be represented at the Summit of the Americas?

MR. RESTREPO: They will not be.

Q Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q If you guys could just explain a little bit more about the part of today's announcement that deals with telecommunications firms being allowed to – I mean, what --

MR. RESTREPO: Certainly. We want to increase the flow of information among Cubans, and between Cubans and the outside world. And one of the ways we can do that under U.S. -- existing United States law, back to the Cuban Democracy Act, is to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to seek to provide services on the island. The licensing process has never -- never really went forward. We're allowing that process -- the President is directing that that licensing process go forward, and directing that the regulations system be put into place to allow U.S. persons to pay for cell coverage that already exists on the island -- again, so Cubans can talk to Cubans, and Cubans can talk to the outside world without having to go through the filter that is the Cuban government.

Q So just cell phones is what this is talking about?

MR. RESTREPO: This is cell phones, satellite television, satellite radio. This is forms of -- modern forms of telecommunication to increase the flow of information to the Cuban people so that if anyone is standing in the way of the Cuban people getting information it is the Cuban government, and it is not some outside technical problem that can be pointed to.

Taking away those excuses and putting -- and trying to create the conditions where greater information flows among the Cuban people, and to and from the Cuban people.

Q To follow up on that, if I may. So if this happens as it's intended to happen, is the idea that a U.S. company would be providing sort of U.S. television programming on -- beaming it in -- onto the island, is that the idea?

MR. RESTREPO: The idea is to increase the flow of information, be it what we see here in the United States -- the global marketplace of television and radio, to make that a possibility for the Cuban people and to ensure that the United States government is not standing in the way of that; to make clear that more -- we stand on the side of having more information rather than less information reach the Cuban people, and for them to be able to communicate among themselves.

Q But the Cuban government would have to allow it to move forward? I mean, they could stop this if they wanted to I assume.

MR. RESTREPO: The Cuban government could stop this and they -- could stop part of this, part of the providing -- allowing U.S. persons to pay for cell coverage and ongoing services on the island today is something that the Cuban government would have a very hard time getting in the middle of. In terms of allowing or disallowing U.S. companies to provide services on the island is something that would clearly require participation of those entities that control information on the island.

MR. GIBBS: I'm going to go back there in one second, but I want to add something to your original question, Chuck. I think one of the things that's important about today's announcement -- I don't know Spanish, the President knows a few words of Spanish, but I think what's important today is we're doing this in a way that is not just going to be heard by a few people. We're doing this so that Cuban Americans can hear it loud and clear the steps that the President is taking --

Q Don’t you try to send a message to the Cuban people, as well, and his image --

MR. GIBBS: Well --

Q -- would you argue is an important image to --

MR. GIBBS: Again, Dan is not going to take that seriously -- (laughter.)

Q -- no, but to beam into Cuba?

MR. GIBBS: It is, but I think what's important, too, is that that image that is beamed in there today is in a language that they can all understand and take heart in.

Yes, ma'am.

Q This announcement comes in the wake of the Summit of the Americas. And several Latin American leaders have been pressuring for strong change of policy to Cuba, and they think of the embargo and the acceptance of Cuba in the OAS. How much of this is pressure by Latin American leaders, and do you expect this to quell some of the Cuba attention in the summit?

MR. GIBBS: Well, this is a fulfillment of a campaign promise that the President made a little less than a year ago. So this is in no way designed to, or done in a way to quell so-called pressure. It's simply the fulfillment of what the President believed was right in 2007, right in 2008, and in 2009 he has the ability to change.

MR. RESTREPO: I'm going to do that in Spanish for her. (Speaking Spanish.)

MR. GIBBS: Sheryl.

Q Robert, a couple questions. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers -- some lawmakers are urging the administration to go even further and lift all travel restrictions for all Americans to Cuba. So how does the administration feel about that? And secondly, it's my understanding that the State Department has said the Cuba policy is under review, which would suggest that there may be further changes coming, and if you could talk about that and whether you view this step today as perhaps a prelude to further normalization or greater diplomatic engagement with Cuba.

MR. RESTREPO: It's important to focus on what is being done today. This is a significant step in reaching out to the Cuban people and supporting their desires to live in freedom. We understand that others have different views on how best to accomplish that. The President is very clear today that this is the step that he is taking to advance the cause of freedom of the Cuban people, to advance our national interest. This is a decision driven by our national interests and how best to advance it and how best to bring to fulfillment the promise he made.

He was very clear that when he made that promise that the best ambassadors for freedom was to begin with family; to allow family members to support family members, to allow direct humanitarian reaching out, because you know where it's headed. That's an important piece here, and it's the most direct means of opening the kind of space that is crucial for advancing the cause of freedom in Cuba.

U.S. policy towards Cuba is not frozen in time. It's not frozen in time today. These are the steps that the President believes makes sense to advance the cause of freedom in Cuba. Obviously, like all aspects of policy, you have to react to the world that you encounter. And so I don't think we should think of -- that we shouldn't think of things as being frozen in time.

Q Do you have a position on the travel ban, the overall travel ban?

MR. RESTREPO: The President believes that a place to start is with allowing Cuban Americans to visit family members, to support them through remittances, to extend the flow of -- free flow of information, and to allow people to send humanitarian packets that have the full range of humanitarian aspects to it -- allowing people to send clothing and fishing supplies and seeds and soap-making equipment that was stripped out of what was allowed a few years ago; allowing people to do that again, allowing people to do that to anyone on the island who is not a member of the -- senior member of the Cuban government or the Communist party.

Those are the steps that the President believes are the most effective, under the current circumstances, to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.

Q So you're saying this isn't frozen in time. How long will you give this policy a chance to work before reassessing it and maybe going further?

MR. GIBBS: We just did this a few minutes ago. Let’s -- (laughter.)

Q No, the President has set timetables for other policy reviews. Does he have a timetable for the --


Q -- this review?

Q In light of what has gone over the -- gone on over the last two days in Somalia, it proves that failed economies create failed states, Robert. Is the President thinking of any programs, especially for some of the more fragile economies in this region, whereby he might enhance the travel exemption for purchasing power for the Americans who travel there; increase that kind of flow, as well?

MR. RESTREPO: Yes, I'm not sure I fully understood the question. In terms --

Q We've got quite a -- Americans get quite a substantial tax exemption when they travel to this area. In fact, I think it's the best for Americans. Will the President, because of the situation now, the economy, will he look for enhancing that tax exemption to allow more purchasing power for Americans as they travel to that area?

MR. RESTREPO: And when you say, "that area," you're saying Cuba or the Americas at large?

Q No, I'm not saying Cuba. I'm saying for the Caribbean and for South America, which is very generous to begin with.

MR. RESTREPO: I think that the President in -- as we look to the Summit of the Americas at the end of the week, is looking -- understanding that the economic crisis and the effects of the economic crisis are being felt very hard around the hemisphere; understanding that U.S. economic recovery is a very important piece of hemispheric economic recovery; understanding that the steps that were taken in London at the G20 have important implications for the countries of the hemisphere; and ensuring that assistance and support gets to the most vulnerable aspects of society throughout the region.

He's focused on those things. As we head in towards the summit, you're going to see more of that. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but you're going to see a very clear focus on the most compelling issue facing the Americas today, which is the same issue facing us, of how do you deal with the economic crisis and how do you ensure that economic recovery reaches all levels of society.

Q So this may be on the table?

MR. RESTREPO: I guess I'll have to admit -- plead ignorance as to the specific of what you're -- to my understanding of the specific thing you're talking about now. But I think as the week unfolds you will see a clear set of policy proposals and ideas that the President is going to put forward to help the economy and the Western Hemisphere.

Q When you come to this country, you're allowed to bring, I think, $1,500 worth of tax-free, duty-free goods. Will that be increased? Will that level be increased to increase -- attract commerce?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think that's something that we're working on right now.


Q Will you allow -- does this announcement allow direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba? How will Cuban American families get there?

MR. RESTREPO: The announcement puts in place or directs the Secretaries of Commerce, Treasury, and State to authorize those transactions necessary to make this a reality. There are charter flights that exist, which Cuban American families under the current, very restricted travel, have access to. Those, in all likelihood, will have to be expanded if there is an increase in demand for that activity.

Q You would allow a commercial airline right now to start --

MR. RESTREPO: There are flights that -- there are flights --

Q Charter flights, I know that, but --

MR. RESTREPO: -- charter flights now.

Q -- you would allow a commercial airline to start more regularly scheduled stuff or --

MR. GIBBS: I think that's exactly what he's instructed --

Q To look into whether to allow that to happen?

MR. GIBBS: -- to looking at the best way to do that.

Q Does the President want to see -- excuse me -- does the President want to see Cuba admitted into the Organization of American States?

MR. RESTREPO: The President looks forward to the day when a Cuban government that respects the basic principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter -- which are the rules that the hemisphere has come up with to govern itself -- abides by that. Everybody who abides by the Inter-American Democratic Charter should have a seat at the Organization of American States.

Q Let me follow up. The Latin American countries are going to be pressuring the American -- President Obama for greater normalization of relations. Is the announcement today an attempt to inoculate the President and the White House a bit from this?

MR. GIBBS: I think I answered that about four questions ago. The answer to that is no, because, like I said, Peter, this was a promise that the President made during the campaign I think in both of the years that we were a candidate. And it's fulfilling of that promise, not anything related to, as I said, so-called "pressure."

MR. RESTREPO: Do you want to do this in Spanish?


Q Robert, could I ask --

MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second, we're going to do an OAS --

MR. RESTREPO: The OAS question in Spanish. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Un momento. (Laughter.) Pretty good, wasn't it? (Laughter.)

MR. RESTREPO: Actually, Robert, you can take over.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. (Laughter.) You just hit my limit on --

MR. RESTREPO: (Speaking in Spanish.)

MR. GIBBS: Wendell.

Q You said the President would look into the idea of allowing direct commercial travel, presumably for relatives. I mean --

MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no, what I said was -- what's that?

Q For relatives.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the policy relates to Cuban Americans that have relatives in Cuba. I think what Chuck was asking was the -- no pun intended -- the delivery vehicle.

Q How they get here, yes.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as Dan said, there are charter flights. I think they're -- in some of the stories I've seen travel agents in Florida talk about hearing from a far greater number of potential clients today, and in the previous couple of days, anticipating the change that the President announced today.

Q And the idea is that family travel might sustain direct, commercial flights between Miami and Cuba?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the answer to that is at current unknowable. But that is exactly why the President has directed the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Treasury, and the Secretary of Commerce to come up with plans relating to the lifting of these restrictions.

Q Do you guys have anything back there?

Q I have a question.

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q After these steps -- the White House is waiting the Cuban government to do something similar towards this direction?

MR. RESTREPO: Everyone is waiting for the Cuban government to respect the basic human, economic, and political rights of the Cuban people; to release political prisoners unconditionally, not as a result of this decision, but as a result of complying with its basic international commitments. What the President has done today is to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire for the very same thing.

Q Can you repeat that in Spanish for us?

MR. RESTREPO: (Speaking Spanish.)

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me go back. Yes, sir.

Q There are economic implications to your announcement. I would bet that on Wall Street right now airline stocks are through the roof, and so are telecommunications.

In this first step, are there any other economic implications in this announcement?

MR. GIBBS: You're looking for a stock tip? (Laughter.) You just gave us two, for goodness sakes. (Laughter.)

MR. RESTREPO: Right. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Can you buy --

Q I'm the Washington editor from -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Maybe you can. (Laughter.)

MR. RESTREPO: The thrust here, again, is reaching out to the Cuban people, and making sure that the United States government isn't standing in the way of their desire to live in freedom, making a clear call to the Cuban government to also get out of the way, and to support that basic desire. The implications, kind of one way or the other, may distract from the central premise here, which is support for that day that everybody wants to see, where the Cuban people get to decide the future of their own country.

Q Now, translate that into financial talk. (Laughter.)

MR. RESTREPO: I'm bilingual, not trilingual.

MR. GIBBS: That would be inexplicable to virtually everyone here.