CUBA NEWS
August 24 , 2007

Barack Obama's stance on Cuba travel may not help him in Florida

By Laura Wides-Munoz | The Associated Press. August 22, 2007.Sun Sentinel, August 22, 2007.

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 contenders.

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 fall.

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 opinion article 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."

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 limits.

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 Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, 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 Castro government.

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."

Copyright 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

 


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