Cuba Sanctions Likely to Ease

MIAMI — The election of Barack Obama opens the door for the U.S. to relax sanctions against Cuba for the first time in more than a decade.

Mr. Obama, in a May campaign speech in Miami, went where presidential candidates have long feared to go by promising to lift restrictions on family visits and remittances by Cuban-Americans seeking to help relatives on the island.

[Supporters of the presidential candidates in Miami's Little Havana area Tuesday. Barack Obama got 35% of the Cuban-American vote in Florida.] Associated Press

Supporters of the presidential candidates in Miami’s Little Havana area Tuesday. Barack Obama got 35% of the Cuban-American vote in Florida.

At one time, the staunchly Republican Cuban-American voting bloc in Florida overwhelmingly opposed any change in the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba’s Communist leadership. Although three Cuban-American Republicans who maintain that stance won re-election to Congress Tuesday, the party’s margin of victory ebbed, and younger voters favored Mr. Obama.

Gisela Ortega, a registered Republican who is Cuban-American, voted for Mr. Obama in the blue-collar suburb of Hialeah. “If people want to go to Cuba to visit family or send money for their relatives, why should we stop them?” the 55-year-old auditor said. “We’ve had the embargo for 50 years and it hasn’t done anything to get rid of the Castros. Maybe it’s time for a change.”

Mr. Obama is likely to roll back sanctions put in place by President George W. Bush in 2004 and 2005, advisers say. Those moves restricted Cuban-Americans from visiting family on the island more than once every three years, and narrowed the list of family members to whom they can send remittances.

“Changing Cuba policy is a high-symbolic-value, low-political-cost way to show that [Mr. Obama] plans to conduct business differently in the world,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban-American businessman in Miami and co-chairman of a group that advocates rethinking the embargo.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Wednesday called on the president-elect to lift the nearly 50-year-old trade embargo entirely. That is more difficult to do because the embargo is codified in federal law. Mr. Obama has signaled that he would move toward normalizing relations if the Cuban government makes human-rights improvements.

“We’ll have to see some signals from the Cubans,” said a person who has advised Mr. Obama. “It takes two to tango. Mainly a good first signal is freeing political prisoners. It took us 50 years to go where we are with Cuba policy. We can’t change that in five days.”

The U.S. relaxed sanctions during the Clinton administration, only to see relations become tense again in 1996 when Cuba shot down two unarmed planes flown by members of Brothers to the Rescue, a Cuban-exile organization. It was after that incident that the embargo became law rather than longstanding presidential policy.

Ninoska Perez, a radio and television host in Miami and a leader of the pro-embargo Cuban Liberty Council, defends the Bush sanctions, which were put into place after Cuba imprisoned 75 prominent dissidents in 2003. “Lifting sanctions for a regime that still has 59 of those 75 dissidents in prison — this is the most absurd thing I’ve heard,” she said.

There is a generational divide among Cuban-Americans. Many older people were born in Cuba and came in the 1960s as political refugees in the early years of Fidel Castro’s rule. Their American-born children, as well as refugees who came more recently for economic reasons, are more likely to support easing of sanctions.

People on both sides agree that the troubled U.S. economy trumped the sanctions issue for many Cuban-Americans in Florida this year. “Cuba was the issue that didn’t bark in this election,” said Dario Moreno, a political-science professor at Florida International University and director of the Metropolitan Center, a think tank.

Mr. Obama won 35% of the Cuban-American vote in Florida, surpassing the previous high-water mark for Democratic candidates of 30% set by Bill Clinton in 1992, according to an exit poll conducted in Miami-Dade County by Bendixen & Associates, an opinion research firm. Among voters ages 18 to 29 years old, he won 55%, while Sen. John McCain carried 75% of those 60 and older.

The firm previously conducted polls for the Obama campaign.

Mr. Moreno says his institute conducted exit polls showing that Cuban-Americans younger than 44 supported Mr. Obama by 49% to 46%. That figure “is the first sign of a shift in the Cuban-American electorate that I’ve seen,” he said.

Wall Street Journal


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One Response to Cuba Sanctions Likely to Ease

  1. Pingback: US Election On Best Political Blogs » Blog Archive » Cuba Sanctions Likely to Ease

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