Cuba Politics

*President Obama will “move quickly” to lift Cuban American travel restrictions

Posted November 05, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

*=sticky post


Washington State National Guard Sgt. Carlos Lazo—the Iraq veteran who gained fame when he couldn’t visit his kids in Cuba—last traveled to the island in January 2007. As things stand now, he can’t go back until 2010.

But with Barack Obama’s White House win, Lazo is hopeful that will change—soon.

‘‘If Obama lifts family travel restrictions on the 22nd of January, I’m sure that in February I will be in Cuba visiting my family—and celebrating the new Cuba policies,’’ Lazo said.

Lazo, 43, became a cause celebre for some when the stricter family reunification travel restrictions put in place by President Bush in 2004 kept Lazo from visiting his children in Cuba. The kids eventually settled in Washington, and Lazo became an Obama campaign volunteer. He personifies one of the clearest examples of how U.S. Cuba policy could change under an Obama presidency.

On the campaign trail, Obama vowed not just to lift family travel restrictions that force Cuban-Americans to wait three years to visit immediate relatives on the island, but also said he would lift the cap on how much money Cuban-Americans can send to the island. He also indicated he would be willing to meet with Cuban leader Raúl Castro, drawing fire from critics who accused Obama of being naive and weak on foreign policy issues.

‘‘Obama will take away restrictions and establish low-level contacts with Cuba, extending a peace branch,’’ Lazo said. ``It will be a change from policies that have given the worst results for 50 years.’‘


People on both sides of the Cuba policy issue wonder if those measured moves will become the first steps to bigger changes, including the eventual lifting of the U.S. trade embargo. Obama has said he supports the embargo, and lifting it would require an act of Congress.

‘‘Obama is willing to sit down with Castro without preconditions—that will lead to the lifting sanctions and the embargo,’’ said conservative Cuban-American commentator Ninoska Pérez, who supported McCain, referring to a position Obama has since modified. He now says there would be preparations for any meeting.

‘‘Obama says he supports the embargo, but obviously he doesn’t. He said he supported it to get a certain number of Cuban votes,’’ Pérez added. She predicts Obama will lift all travel restrictions, handing a ‘‘victory to the Cuban regime,’’ and boosting its government-run travel industry.

‘‘Obama thinks he can sit down with a dictator and convince him to be a democrat,’’ she said.

Obama’s Latin America foreign policy advisor, Frank Sanchez, said as president the candidate will move quickly ‘‘within [the] possible and practical bounds of his authority’’ to lift the family travel and remittances restrictions. Anything more than that, Sanchez told The Miami Herald, will have to wait.

‘‘Just like Barack has said, it took us 50 years to get where we are, we’re not going to undo that in five days,’’ Sanchez said. ``We want to see some concrete steps from the Cuban government. If we saw all the political prisoners freed, if we saw something like that, a strong sign, we could begin considering other things.’‘

Vicki Huddleston, a former chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, said Obama’s moves would lead to brisk business in Miami, creating jobs in the travel industry as more flights take off for the island and businesses pop up to handle the flow of care packages.

More importantly, she said, the stream of Cuban Americans and their cash in their relatives’ pockets will boost the independence of people on the island who are now heavily dependent on the Cuban government for their livelihood.

‘‘They will be able to buy TVs, computers, medicine and food. They’ll be able to read The Miami Herald online,’’ she said. ‘‘Allowing families to travel between Miami and Cuba begins to give Cubans a voice, because right now the Cuban government holds all the strings.’’ The University of Miami’s Andy Gomez, of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said a migration crisis could be triggered when more Cuban Americans begin to see for themselves the reality their relatives are living in, and start trying to help their families get out.


The Cuban government, Huddleston said, might have preferred Sen. John McCain.

‘‘They might fear Obama more. The Cuban government is not dumb,’’ she said. ``More people and more openness is a bigger threat than isolating them.’‘

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Member Comments

On November 05, 2008, publisher wrote:

Hopefully Carlos Lazo will have a role in assisting President Obama with Cuba policy.

On November 05, 2008, abh wrote:

El cambio ya llego!
Not sure if we can expect the travel restrictions to be lifted Jan 22nd but at least we have some hope.
This is the most positive moment in US-Cuban relations in awhile.
And he even won Florida, cojones!!!!!

On November 05, 2008, MiamiCuban wrote:

I think I can safely say that even if Cuba freed all political prisoners tomorrow, the exile community in Miami would find yet another “reason” why the embargo shouldn’t be lifted.  I have no doubt that if Raul Castro thought that freeing the prisoners would pave the way toward normal relations, he’d be inclined to do so.  But they know the mentality of the right-wing Cubans better than anyone.  I live among these people, and I’ve seen that with them it’s not about finding justice or doing the right thing.  It’s about keeping the pressure on Cuba and ousting the Castros so they can take over, whether by returning to the island themselves or by dictating to the Cuban government how to run things.

As for Obama’s victory, that’s exactly what this country needs—a change in direction.  I think he’ll be a great president.  I think he’ll unite the nation and he’ll regain the respect of the world.  I hope, too, that he’ll lift the travel restrictions to Cuba as well as the embargo.  It would be nice to see Sgt. Lazo in Obama’s cabinet.  He’s an excellent example of the “new face” of the new generation of Cubans in Miami.

On November 05, 2008, publisher wrote:

Don’t forget about all the USAID money and other government grants in the MILLIONS of dollars that go into Miami EVERY year to “fight” Castro.

What happens when the Embargo goes away?

The free money goes away too.

On November 05, 2008, MiamiCuban wrote:

Exactly.  That just may be THE largest reason to keep up the animosity between the two countries.  Freeing the political prisoners is not at all what they really want, because that could be the beginning of the END of all the USAID money.  These extremists don’t care about the political prisoners nor do they care about democracy; it’s all about the money and their cushy political positions in Miami.

On November 05, 2008, bernie wrote:

When the USA enacted the embargo they didn’t sit down with Castro or anybody else they just slapped the embargo on Cuba, and be dammed to anybody who objected to it.  So if the embargo is to be lifted it will be lifted as it was imposed, really it’s not necessary for anybody to meet with any representative of any country.  As for political prisoners and human rights, so
what, these are just smoke screens as to the reality of the situation.

Obama does not need congress to lift the embargo, he is able to do this by a simple executive order?????

On November 05, 2008, publisher wrote:

Helms Burton made it into law in 1996 if I am not mistaken. So, it will take an act of Congress to change the law.

The Cuban American travel restrictions can be lifted by Executive Order.

It would appear that all the “ducks are in a row” to end this Embargo with all the Democrats coming to Washington.

However, I suppose the sad old dinosaurs in Miami probably have one more trick up their sleeve and will sell their grandmother if they have to in order to keep the Embargo in place.

Will they be successful? We’ll soon (hopefully) find out.

On November 06, 2008, edward wrote:

I have to say that November the 4th was a truly great day for America and a great day for the world. I’m looking forward to seeing evidence from the new administration of “change”

You should all be immensely proud of your people and your country.

Congratulations from the UK


On November 06, 2008, publisher wrote:

Thank you. BIG change from Bush and that’s good for most people in the US and in the world.

Here are a couple commentaries regarding Obama and US Cuba policy:

one from Marc Masferrer and this opinion from Reuters’ Bernd Debusmann.

On November 06, 2008, edward wrote:

Very interesting, we may even trump you guys by our very own potential black premier.


On November 06, 2008, Joe wrote:

Obama or MACCain, Embargo or no Embargo, I am marrying my Girlfriend soon smile

Oh! She is a Cuban


Wish Happiness 4 Cubans

On November 07, 2008, publisher wrote:

Just found this “fantasy” news story with this lead paragraph:

“Following the normalization of US-Cuban relations in 2009, US President Barack Obama visited Cuba in August, 2010. Obama met with new Cuban President Nicholas Santiago, the first non-Castro to head Cuba in 50 years, and was warmly greeted by the Cuban people in several public appearances.”

The article is a good read with historic points. Very creative.

On November 07, 2008, edward wrote:

How come these american companies are doing business with Cuba, are they agri’ firms?

On November 07, 2008, publisher wrote:

All licensed I’m sure.

On November 07, 2008, cubanpete wrote:

Will Obama support “change” in Cuba as well as the USA?

On November 07, 2008, publisher wrote:

I hope he will encourage change with some Plan B.

By the way…

On November 07, 2008, MiamiCuban wrote:

Here’s what Thomas Jefferson said about meddling in the affairs of other countries:  “If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.”  - Thomas Jefferson

I think there’s too thin a line between “supporting change” and outright conquest, so it’s probably best to let Cubans handle their own political evolution.  Besides, we have enough “change” of our own to do.

On November 07, 2008, Mako wrote:

Publisher , you are right about Helms - Burton. But with the Dems and farm state republicans in control of both houses of congress. It is almost certain that Obama wil, have his way in thte first year ofd his presidency. Pelosi , Reid and Obama are all opposed to Helms Burton

On November 09, 2008, publisher wrote:

More evidence that President Obama will “move quickly” to ease the Embargo. This story from the AP says:

“President-elect Obama’s transition chief said Sunday the incoming administration is reviewing President Bush’s executive orders on stem cell research, oil and gas drilling and other matters.

John Podesta said the president can use such orders to move quickly without waiting for Congress to act, highlighting the extraordinary powers a president can wield beyond signing legislation approved by Congress. Podesta said people should expect Obama to use those powers to reverse many policies of the Bush administration.

“I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country,” Podesta said in a broadcast interview.

“There’s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we’ll see the president do that,” Podesta said.”

Hopefully these “other matters” are Cuba related.

On November 09, 2008, publisher wrote:

Also, this opinion posted at says:

“Obama cannot end the embargo without Congress. But he can unlock the logjam in both countries by using his legal authority to restore in a non-discriminatory fashion the constitutional right totravel to every American who wants to make “non-tourist” visits.

By regulatory fiat, the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department can restore and expand by general license the kind of journeys that took place before 2004 by world affairs councils, museums, Elderhostel, Semester at Sea, religious and humanitarian groups,sports teams, musicians, artists, professional and business associations, students, alumni, people-to-people exchanges and serious individuals.”

Hmmm, I think you might find lots of “non-tourist” Americans heading to Cuba for what can be a very broad description for “cultural” travel. After reading all this I think that this is what’s coming… a couple quick executive orders, perhaps will little fanfare then announcement of more direct flights to Cuba for a wide variety of US cities.

On November 12, 2008, publisher wrote:

This is pretty much unrelated to Cuba travel sanctions but it does go to show how differently this President is from all other President’s before him.

Obama to pioneer Web outreach as president