BY BETH REINHARD | Miami Herald
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is calling for ‘‘unrestricted rights’’ for Cuban Americans to visit and send money to family in Cuba, just days before his first pilgrimage to Little Havana as a presidential candidate.
President Bush clamped down on family travel and remittances to Cuba in an effort to squeeze dictator Fidel Castro. The policy has become a flash point in the Cuban-American community, which traditionally leans toward the GOP.
‘‘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 of grassroots democracy on the island,’’ Obama wrote in an opinion column published in today’s Miami Herald. ``Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.’‘
Obama is expected to repeat his message Saturday at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, a site laden with nostalgia for Cuban exiles. It was there that President Ronald Reagan declared ``Cuba s�, Castro no’’ during a landmark, anti-communist speech in 1983 that emboldened a Cuban-American community then hovering on the political fringes.
About 1,100 tickets have been sold so far to Obama’s speech, with the proceeds going to the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. The $30 entry fee is a fraction of the $2,300 donation typical of presidential fundraisers.
‘‘This speech has so much symbolism and value, coming in the heart of the Cuban-American community,’’ said the local party’s chairman, Joe Garcia, who previously worked as executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. ``Sen. Obama has come to the conclusion that the majority of Cuban Americans have come to, which is that more travel is good for freedom and good for democracy.’‘