Monday, August 23, 2010

Cuban-American politicians against loosening travel, aid rules

Cuban-American politicians against loosening travel, aid rules
From the CNN Wire Staff
August 21, 2010 -- Updated 0152 GMT (0952 HKT)

Washington (CNN) -- Five Cuban-American members of Congress expressed
concern Friday over reports that the Obama administration is planning to
announce rules loosening restrictions on travel and economic aid to
Cuba. They asked the president to reconsider.

"We are deeply troubled that such changes would result in economic
benefits to the Cuban regime and would significantly undermine U.S.
foreign policy and security objectives," said U.S. Rep. Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs
Committee; Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey; and U.S. Reps. Lincoln
Diaz-Balart, R-Florida; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida; and Albio Sires,
D-New Jersey; in a letter to President Barack Obama.

"We believe the laws pertaining to U.S.-Cuba policy are clear, providing
a concise road map of both permissible and prohibited transactions aimed
at protecting and advancing U.S. interests," they said. "Meanwhile,
changes such as those being reported in the media would undermine those
priorities, could run contrary to U.S. statute, and would play directly
into the hands of the Cuban tyranny.

"In light of the concerns and critical issues we have raised, we
respectfully ask that you reconsider making any determinations changing
current U.S.-policy toward the Cuban regime until the requirements in
U.S. law are met."

On Wednesday, a senior U.S. official and congressional sources told CNN
that the Obama administration would "soon" announce new rules on the

The central component of the proposed policy change involves
"people-to-people" exchanges under which academics, corporations,
humanitarian groups, and athletic teams could travel to Cuba. The
administration would not lift tourist travel limits or the strict trade
restrictions currently in place, but would promote cultural exchanges,
programs with universities, or allow U.S. farms to send assistance to
Cuban farmers as part of the new rules, the sources said.

An aide who supports the changes said the goal would be for people to be
able to travel to the island to help Cubans build their own economy and
culture. The policy is "to go down there give a message of hope, to help
the Cuban people forge their own future as they want, not necessarily as
the way another government wants," the aide said.

In addition, the administration is planning to expand the policy it
announced last year under which Cuban-Americans can send money to
relatives in Cuba. The new regulations would allow any U.S. citizen,
including universities, churches and businesses, to send money or
sponsor a partner in Cuba. There would be a cap on the amount of money
that could be sent.

The State Department would also shift its current policy, which denies
visas for Cubans to travel to the United States, to one that would give
a "presumption of approval" unless a review were to discover a problem
with the request, the sources said.

While the administration cannot change current travel restrictions
without congressional approval, it does have the authority to loosen
visa rules, the sources said.

Critics note that the government has not been brought down in the half
century since the embargo was imposed and say it helps the Cuban
government explain the economic hardships on the island.

According to his website, Lincoln Diaz-Balart helped draft the
legislation that strengthened the embargo against the Cuban dictatorship
in 1996, "making the lifting of sanctions contingent upon the liberation
of all political prisoners and the scheduling of multiparty elections in

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