Ease Cuban embargo, Barack Obama urges

08/21/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Presidential candidate Barack Obama shook things up in the Democratic race by calling for "unrestricted rights" for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to family in Cuba.

In an op-ed published in today’s Miami Herald, the Illinois senator wrote:

“Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings fo grassroots democracy on the island.”

Now most Cuban-Americans can only visit once every 3 years and can only send quarterly remittances of up to $300 per household to immediately family. Previously, they could visit once a year and send up to $3,000. Franco Silva is the host of the weekly WMNF music & culture program Latino 54. He applauds the move, saying that even hardline exiles had issues with the restrictions imposed by the Bush administration in 2004.

Ninoska Perec, director for the Cuban Liberty Council, doesn’t believe Obama’s stance will play well in the Miami Dade County area, where he’s scheduled to speak on Saturday night.

In his opinion piece, Obama references the period of the late '90s and the early part of this decade, when it appeared that human rights activists had more political freedom than ever under Castro’s rule. Obama attributes that to U.S. policies – before the March 2003 jailing by the regime of 75 of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents.

Sylvia Wilhelm is executive director of the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights based in Miami, a group that has lobbied for a relaxation of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. That portion of the op-ed did not impress her.

Republican presidential candidates will surely have something to say about Obama’s opinion piece. Former Massachusetts Sen. Mitt Romney took shots at Obama after his comment that he would use military force in Pakistan against al-Queda leaders if there was reliable intelligence.

But among the Democrats running for president, Obama’s statement is not the most liberal regarding visiting Cuba.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd is co-sponsoring a measure in the Senate that would allow any American citizen to visit Cuba. Sylvia Wilhelm says her group has always respected Dodd and his liberal perspective overall regarding Latin America.

WMNF programmer Franco Silva has visited Cuba twice in the past four years. He says the Bush administration’s crackdown on travel and remittances has made it more perilous for those traveling by boat to the Communist island.

Barack Obama speaks at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium Saturday night. All eight Democratic presidential candidates will be in Miami for a debate on Sept. 8.

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