The Associated Press
Twenty mostly Cuban exile organizations called on the U.S. government Monday to relax travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit family on the island nation and to permit Americans to send humanitarian aid to the communist country.
The request by the coalition Cuban Consensus comes weeks after top Cuban dissidents made similar requests. The move comes at a time of great political uncertainty in Cuba, where 80-year-old Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to his brother Defense Minister Raul Castro more than four months ago following intestinal surgery.
It also comes two days after Raul Castro reached out to the United States during a major military parade, offering to discuss the two countries’ differences on equal terms. Fidel Castro did not appear at the parade as many Cubans had anticipated, making it seem more likely that Raul Castro will be the Cuban leader the U.S. deals with in the future.
The request also highlights the changing political views among the exile community over how to respond to the Cuban government’s restrictions on freedom of expression and movement.
Among those demanding the changes is The Cuba Study Group, a nonpartisan Washington-based organization of business and community leaders, the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, as well as the association of Independent Libraries of Cuba.
“I came from the hard-line position,” Cuba Study Group Co-Chairman Carlos Saladrigas said. “But isolating a people has not brought us change in 47 years. Isolating a people only helps to support the dictatorship.”
Saladrigas added that the opposite tactic was used to promote change in Eastern Europe.
“Why would we think that these measures that weren’t used in any of the transition processes in the Eastern European countries would work here?” he said.
The coalition said the restrictions implemented by the U.S., as well as those of the Cuban government, which severely restricts the travel of its citizens, violate fundamental human rights.
Republican U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, a longtime supporter of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, said he was glad to see growing consensus among Cuban organizations but that the coalition was missing the larger issue
“The genuine consensus that needs to be emphasized at this critical moment must be focused on the immediate liberation of all political prisoners without exceptions and in the scheduling of free, multiparty elections in Cuba, not in unilateral concessions to the dictatorship,” he said.
The coalition is taking aim in particular at U.S. restrictions implemented in 2004 that made it more difficult for academic and humanitarian groups to travel to the island and limited the number of times Cubans can visit their families there from once a year to once every three years.
At the same time, the coalition is calling on Fidel Castro’s government to make it easier for Cubans to visit their family outside the island, as well as reducing the costs necessary to obtain permission to leave the country. They are also asking the Cuban government to cut the country’s high long-distance telephone taxes and provide citizens access to he Internet.