Obama Lifts Broad Set Of Sanctions Against Cuba

An administration official says President Barack Obama has directed his administration to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba. Video by AP
By Michael D. Shear and Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

President Obama yesterday announced a series of steps aimed at easing the U.S. relationship with Cuba, breaking from policies first imposed by the Kennedy administration and stepping into an emotional debate over the best way to bring democratic change to one of the last remaining communist regimes.

White House officials said the decision to lift travel and spending restrictions on Americans with family on the island will provide new support for the opponents of Raúl and Fidel Castro's government. And they said lifting the ban on U.S. telecommunications companies reaching out to the island will flood Cuba with information while providing new opportunities for businesses.

Obama left in place the broad trade embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962. But just days before leaving to attend a summit with the leaders of South and Central America, he reversed restrictions that barred U.S. citizens from visiting their Cuban relatives more than once every three years and lifted limits on the amount of money and goods Cuban Americans can send back to their families.

He also cleared away virtually all U.S. regulations that had stopped American companies from attempting to bring their high-tech services and information to the island.

"All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday in announcing the new Cuba policy. "President Obama believes the measure he has taken today will help make that goal a reality."

Under the new rules, officials say, there is likely to be an explosion of new charter flights to the island, and direct commercial flights could follow. Gifts and money will flow freely from U.S. relatives for the first time. And the announcement could open the door for the American information revolution to enter the island nation -- in the form of Howard Stern on Sirius radio, iPhones and Wikipedia.

The moves were hailed by many advocates of greater openness toward the regime, including the business community, which sees new opportunities for commerce. But they were immediately criticized by those on the right and the left who said they went either too far or not far enough.

Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, brothers and Florida Republicans who are from Cuba, issued a joint statement calling the action a "serious mistake" that represents a concession to a repressive regime. They said the money flowing into Cuba would reach communist leaders, not the people.

"President Obama has violated his pledge of January 20 by unilaterally granting a concession to the dictatorship which will provide it with hundreds of millions of dollars annually," their statement said. "Unilateral concessions to the dictatorship embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro-democracy activists."

On the other side of the issue, Carlos Pascual, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, praised the policy shift as a good first step that recognizes what he called 50 years of failed policy toward Cuba.

But Pascual, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States at age 3, said democratic change in the country will not come until the U.S. trade embargo is lifted. Most nations now have diplomatic relations with Cuba, leaving the United States virtually alone in its attempts to enforce the embargo.

"It isn't enough," said Pascual, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico. "In and of itself, it's not going to produce a radical change in Cuba. But it's a recognition that a change is necessary."

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