Friday, February 27, 2009

Cubans Say U.S. Moves to Ease Embargo Not Enough

Latin America Herald Tribune

Friday, February 27,2009

HAVANA – Cubans feel that the U.S. House of Representatives' approval of a measure that would make it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit the island and for Cuba to purchase food and medicine from the United States is a "positive" but "insufficient" step.

The legislation, which still must get over the hurdle in the Senate to become law, would allow Cuban-Americans to travel to the island once every 12 months to see relatives and not once every three years, as is currently the case.

In addition, it broadens the range of people who are considered to be relatives and eliminates some regulatory procedures on the sale of medicines and food to Cuba like the one requiring advance payment.

One analyst consulted by EFE said he felt that the measure was "a little disappointing for Cubans" because expectations have been raised about complete elimination of the travel restrictions.

A European observer said that the expansion of the categories of people who can travel is "interesting," but he recalled that the measure is still just a bill and the Republican minority in the Senate has the ability to hold up its approval.

In addition, he said he felt the remarks of Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, were much more interesting and important" with regard to the need to revamp the policy of the U.S. economic embargo because of its failure to "bring democracy to the Cuban people."

Another analyst said that the step taken by Congress is "a normal move" toward the situation prior to 2004 - when the Bush administration tightened travel restrictions - within a process limited by the fact "that Obama doesn't have time now to deal with the issue of Cuba."

He added, however, that the new U.S. president "has to give a signal to the region with an eye toward the Summit of the Americas," which will take place in April with the countries in the region aligned in a coordinated manner for the first time against the 47-year-old embargo.

The approval of the measure was seen in the streets of Havana as something that "could be seen coming."

That, at least, is the view of Michael Gonzalez, 28, who told Efe that the decision of Congress "puts the ball in Cuba's court" because now the island's communist government will have to think about "what they're going to do about the invasion of Cuban-Americans that could follow."

"I think that the law will be approved by the U.S. Senate because even (some) Republican senators have defended a change in the immigration policy with Cuba," he added.

A 34-year-old Havana resident who preferred not to give his name said that the measure "is insufficient," but he added that "whatever is done in the direction of making the embargo more flexible and normalizing things a little bit is positive."

"In any case, the impact of that is overvalued. It's going to have a positive impact, but it won't mean the switch that people think. It's going back to 2003, before Bush implemented the policy in 2004, and that's not a big thing," he said.

Maria Esther Rodriguez, 70, who has a daughter living in the United States, said the measure would be "very beneficial" for families like hers "from the sentimental point of view, and also from the economic one for the families in Cuba who will also be able to receive help for their economy."

Eumelia Carmenate, 65, has a son in the United States and said that "the best thing in the world would be, instead of every three years, to be able to see him here each year."

"My son Miguel is desperate, hoping to come as soon as possible because the last trip was in December 2006 and he can't come back until December of this year, according to the prevailing law," he added. EFE

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