Cuba Welcomes U.S. Easing Travel Restrictions, but Calls Policy ‘Absurd’

By MichaelJames

Jan 17, 2011 8:14pm

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports:

The Cuban government today welcomed the Obama administration's decision on Friday to ease restrictions on Americans who want to travel and send money back to Cuba, but noted with disdain that the embargo remained in place.

"If there was a true interest in expanding and easing the contacts between our two peoples, the United States should lift the blockade and the prohibition that makes of Cuba the only country that U.S. citizens can not freely travel to," the Cuban foreign ministry said in a statement.

While calling last week's actions "positive," the ministry said the United States' restrictions on travel to the island are "absurd" and said the change "is also an expression of the admission of the failure of the U.S. policy against Cuba and that the U.S. government is seeking new ways to achieve its historical goal of dominating the Cuban people."

On Friday, President Obama rolled back some travel restrictions, in place since 2003, to allow students and religious groups to visit Cuba and to allow charter flights to the island to depart from all U.S. airports. The new guidelines also allow Americans to send up to $500 per quarter to non-family members in the Communist country.

"These measures only benefit some categories of U.S. citizens and do not restore the right of every U.S. citizen to travel to Cuba, making them the only ones worldwide that can not visit Cuba freely," the Cuban Foreign Ministry statement said.

Friday's move also raised the ire of several lawmakers on Capitol Hill, particularly many Cuban-American members of Congress such as the new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who said the "changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives and will bring economic benefits to the Cuban regime."

"Loosening these regulations will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba," Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said in a prepared statement. "These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them. These changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives and will bring economic benefits to the Cuban regime."

Newly-sworn-in Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., agreed.

“I strongly oppose any new changes that weaken U.S. policy towards Cuba," he said on Friday. "I was opposed to the changes that have already been made by this administration and I oppose these new changes.  I believe that what does need to change are the Cuban regime's repressive policies towards the independent press and labor unions, its imprisonment of political prisoners and constant harassment of citizens with dissenting views, and its refusal to allow free multi-party elections.  It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people.”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll in April 2009 found the the majority of Americans, 55 percent, supported easing all travel restrictions to Cuba. The same poll also found 57 percent support for ending the trade embargo and 66 percent support for establishing diplomatic relations.

The Obama administration has taken steps to re-establish dialogue with the Cuban government. The two sides held the latest round of talks on migration in Havana last week.

-Kirit Radia

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