Saturday, April 4, 2009

Obama action on family, Back delegation

Obama to abolish limits on U.S.-Cuba family ties
Sat Apr 4, 2009 5:57pm BST

By Anthony Boadle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a move that could herald better ties between Cold War foes, the Obama administration is planning to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

President Barack Obama has decided to fulfill a campaign promise and allow Cuban Americans and Cuban emigres to freely visit and send money to their families in the communist-led nation, the newspaper said, citing a senior administration official.

A White House official confirmed the administration's intentions to lift the restrictions, but said the measure was not a new policy statement and was not imminent.

"The administration has conveyed that our policy toward Cuba is being reviewed and the president has stated that there's a sense that restrictions on family visits and cash remittances should be lifted," the official told Reuters.

"Our focus remains on the need for democratic reforms and human rights" in Cuba, the official said.

The removal of limits on family travel and cash remittances would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. It would also remove the ceiling of $1,200 per person in cash remittances to needy family members in Cuba.

"This is a good humanitarian move that honors Cuban Americans' right to visit and aid their relatives as they see fit," said Cuba expert Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute.

"But it creates one class of Americans who can travel to Cuba at will, so it will add to the momentum in Congress to lift restrictions on all other Americans, who have a right to travel too," he said.

The Wall Street Journal said the move was probably meant to signal a new attitude toward both Cuba and other Latin American countries that have pressed Washington to end a trade embargo that has sought to isolate Havana for more than four decades.

TRAVEL AND REMITTANCES

During last year's presidential campaign, Obama favored easing U.S. restrictions on family travel and remittances, but said he would not eliminate the trade embargo until Cuba shows progress toward democracy and greater human rights.

The U.S. Congress is considering bills that would lift the ban on American citizens traveling to Cuba that was introduced with other sanctions in the early 1960s when Fidel Castro's revolution turned Cuba into a Soviet ally.

Obama is due to meet Latin American leaders at a summit in Trinidad and Tobago later this month.

The Wall Street Journal said Obama is not considering any specific diplomatic outreach toward Cuba, where Fidel Castro has been sidelined by illness and was succeeded as president last year by his brother Raul Castro.

U.S. lawmakers, who believe in increasing numbers that the embargo has proven ineffective in bringing political change to Cuba, have taken the initiative on the outreach front.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives arrived in Havana on Friday to meet with Cuban officials in a sign of accelerating efforts to improve relations.

Representative Barbara Lee said the group of seven Democrats wanted simply to "see what the possibilities are" and carried no messages from Obama or proposals for the Cubans. "We're here to learn and talk," she told reporters.

The congressional delegation is the first from the United States to visit Cuba since Obama took office in January.

"Change is in the air and our president, of course, talks very clearly about bilateral relations with all countries in the world," said Lee.

(Additional reporting Jeff Franks in Havana and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Chris Wilson)

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