Cuba stand breaks rank
By Laura Wides-Munoz, AP Hispanic Affairs
Writer. Wed Aug 22, 2:57 PM ET
MIAMI - Barack Obama's desire to ease U.S.-Cuba
travel restrictions stands in contrast to
the stances of Democratic presidential rival
Hillary Rodham Clinton and most of the Republican
The question is whether his position will
help him in Florida.
Cuban-Americans make up a small but growing
number of Democrats in this swing state,
but most are still either Republicans or
independents, meaning they will have little
say in the party's Jan. 29 primary.
Many Cuban-Americans also remain conflicted
about the Bush administration's 2004 restrictions
that slashed the amount of money they can
send and cut the number of visits they can
make to families on the island. They want
to be able to travel home and help their
needy relatives, but they also want to see
ailing Fidel Castro's communist government
The Bush administration says the restrictions,
on top of the government's 45-year-old economic
embargo against Cuba, promote such change.
But Obama disagrees.
"The primary means we have of encouraging
positive change in Cuba today is to help
the Cuban people become less dependent on
the Castro regime in fundamental ways,"
the Illinois senator wrote in an op-ed piece
published in Tuesday's Miami Herald.
Clinton, the New York senator and Democratic
front-runner, issued a statement reiterating
her support for the current policy toward
Cuba, adding, "Until it is clear what
type of policies might come with a new government,
we cannot talk about changes in the U.S.
policies toward Cuba."
She has recently sought to portray Obama
as naive on foreign policy.
Among other Democratic candidates, Sen.
Joe Biden also supports the status quo.
Former Sen. John Edwards staked out the
middle ground Tuesday, calling for an end
to the family travel restrictions but saying
he would not immediately change the remittance
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has also
called for an end to the travel and money
restrictions for Cuban-Americans, while
Sen. Chris Dodd has said he would lift all
travel restrictions. U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich
supports scrapping the embargo.
Republicans criticized Obama's proposal.
"We're in a very critical moment where
many of us are hoping that we will see a
transition as opposed to a transfer of power.
Frankly I think his comments are ill-timed,"
said Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, chairman
of the Republican National Committee. "It
shows that he either didn't think it through
very well or simply hasn't had enough experience
on these tough foreign policy problems."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and
former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the
leading GOP presidential candidates, both
said easing sanctions would only help the
"We must not weaken our policy on
Cuba until the Castro regime is dismantled,
all political prisoners are freed and Cuba
transitions to free and fair elections,"
Still, Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the
University of Miami's conservative Institute
for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said
Obama's position is in line with what many
academics have long tried to tell Washington.
"We have to lift the travel ban, not
only to allow families to reunite but to
allow us to provide information to the Cuban
people that will help them form their decisions
as to what kind of government they would
like for the future," he said.
Another factor: The Cuban-Americans most
likely to support lifting the travel restrictions
are often recent immigrants who are not
yet U.S. citizens and cannot vote.
That could suggest Obama was pointing to
the general election, hoping a bold foreign
policy statement would demonstrate his command
in the international arena not only to Democrats
but also to independents and Republicans
- Cuban or not.
Leonard Verdugo, 39, is among the conflicted
independents Obama will have to win over.
The Havana native initially said he had
no desire to return to the country he fled
a decade ago and opposed Obama's position.
A minute later he conceded that he sends
money home to his mother and sister there,
adding reluctantly, "I guess I agree
that if your immediate family is there,
you can visit."