Obama Lifts Trade, Travel Restrictions To Cuba
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
President Obama is making some changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba. The White House announced today that it's lifting travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans, making it easier for them to visit the island and to send money home to relatives there.
But some would like to see him go further and work towards ending the Cuban trade embargo that's been in place for almost 50 years. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Hints about the change in Cuba policy had been trickling out of the administration for more than a week. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs made the formal announcement during his daily briefing this afternoon.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Spokesman): 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.
HORSLEY: The new policy lifts all restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban-Americans and eliminates the cap on financial aid they can send to needy relatives. The White House immediately translated the announcement into Spanish. Gibbs said it makes good on Mr. Obama's pledge during a campaign stop in Miami last year.
Mr. GIBBS: 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 make Cuban-American money make their families less dependent on the Castro regime."
HORSLEY: The president is also trying to encourage a freer flow of information to Cuba by allowing U.S. communications companies to seek Cuban licenses. Some observers wants more. The top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, Richard Lugar, suggests naming a special envoy to Cuba. And some would like to see a complete end to the trade embargo, which has cut off commerce between the two countries since 1962.
Mr. Obama's action today stops well short of that. But David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes the embargo's days are numbered.
Mr. DAVID ROTHKOPF (Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): This is the beginning of the end of one of the worst, least successful foreign policy experiments in the history of the United States.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has said he supports keeping the trade embargo to provide leverage over the repressive Castro regime. But Rothkopf, who served in the Commerce Department under President Clinton, says that kind of leverage has done nothing to unseat the Cuban leadership, despite five decades of trying.
Mr. ROTHKOPF: The reality is that only one country has successfully been isolated by this 50-year embargo. And that is the United States of America. The policy dates back to the Edsel. It is the Edsel of American foreign policy.
HORSLEY: The announcement of the new policy comes as the president's preparing to attend the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad this weekend. Thirty-four countries will be represented there, but not Cuba. Former ambassador, Jeffrey Davidow, who is advising the White House on this summit, says Cuba has become the odd man out in a hemisphere increasingly led by democratically elected governments.
Mr. JEFFREY DAVIDOW (White House Advisor on Summit of the Americas): From my perspective, it would be unfortunate to lose the opportunity for this hemisphere at the beginning of the Obama administration to set down some guidelines and make some progress jointly by getting distracted by the Cuban issue.
HORSLEY: But Davidow, a veteran diplomat, admits Cuba continues to enjoy outside symbolic importance, that's far more than a small island 90 miles off the U.S. coast.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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