Change of rules toward Cuba welcome

Published: Wednesday, April 15, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King Register Staff

When Yale Law School student David Perez returned from an academic trip to Cuba last month, he did not know he might soon be able to visit the country as a tourist.

Perez, whose parents grew up in Cuba, said that he and five fellow students had a difficult time getting visas to travel to the Caribbean nation. But with President Barack Obama announcing plans to lift travel restrictions for people with relatives in Cuba, those difficulties could disappear for Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

The move is a “step in the right direction,” Perez said Tuesday. But he and other Connecticut advocates for improving the political and economic situation in Cuba said the administration has not gone far enough.

“This should be seen as a positive step — it’s great, but very limited,” said Perez, whose March trip was his first to Cuba. “It was a bone, but it doesn’t have that much meat on the bone yet.”

On Monday, Obama announced that his administration would lift restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting and sending money to family members in Cuba. The president’s directive would also authorize American telecommunications providers to set up networks so that Cubans can communicate with people off the island.

In separate statements Monday, U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, expressed support for the changes.

Dodd, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, called the move “an important first step towards opening people-to-people contact between the United States and Cuba” in his statement.

“I hope to see more positive changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba in the coming months, and encourage the Obama administration to soon lift the remaining travel and remittance restrictions on all Americans,” Dodd said in the statement. “For more than four decades, we have maintained an isolationist policy toward Cuba, sacrificing Americans’ freedom to travel and to trade. This approach has not only failed to achieve its stated objectives; by depriving the Cuban people of the benefit of interaction with the American people, it has inhibited a peaceful and democratic transition.”

Cuba and its 11 million residents have been off-limits to most American visitors for decades. The communist government has been cited by the United States for human rights violations.

President George W. Bush tightened restrictions, limiting frequency and length of visits for Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba.

In a statement detailing the changes to the travel policy, the White House Press Office said Obama believes easing the restrictions could help “foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island” since Cuban-Americans could act as “ambassadors for freedom” while visiting relatives.

Tim Craine, a professor of mathematical sciences at Central Connecticut State University and a member of the Greater Hartford Coalition on Cuba, said Tuesday that his group supports extending travel rights to all Americans. Under the existing policies, he said, it has been more difficult for CCSU students to study in Cuba.

“Americans should be free to travel to Cuba, so we understand that the president has made a small step in that direction but it really needs to be extended to all Americans,” Craine said. “It’s a good thing he made that step, but we would hope that he would go farther.”

Craine said that he is also in favor of the United States easing its trade embargo on the country.

Perez said he hopes to travel to Cuba soon under the relaxed regulations. Using the information he gained on his trip, he wrote a policy recommendation for U.S.-Cuba relations that he has circulated to some U.S. State Department officials and hopes to publish. A key element of the proposal is allowing all Americans to travel to Cuba, he said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind I’m going to take advantage of this,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of people taking advantage of this because we never know when (the restrictions) are going to go back.”

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