Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cuba's Foreign Minister Backs Barack Obama On Embargo

Cuba's Foreign Affairs Minister Felipe Perez Roque said he welcomed a call by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to ease the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

In an opinion piece on Tuesday in The Miami Herald newspaper, the Illinois senator Barack Obama proposed easing restrictions for Cuban exiles to travel to Cuba or send money home.

"These declarations appear to express the sentiment of the majority of the United States," Cuba's Foreign Affairs Minister Felipe Perez Roque said when asked to comment on Obama's proposal.

"Measures by the Bush administration to tighten the decades-old blockade were barbaric and an effort to try to force our people to surrender through hunger and illness," Roque told reporters in Brazil's capital.

Now most Cubans in the U.S. can only visit the island once every three years and can only send quarterly remittances of up to $300 per household to immediate family members. Previously, they could visit once a year and send up to $3,000. The U.S. also tightened restrictions on travel for educational and religious groups.

Obama's campaign confirmed that, if elected, the Illinois senator would lift restrictions imposed by the Bush administration and allow Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives more frequently, as well as ease limits on the amount of money they can send to their families.

Obama's rival Sen. Hillary Clinton said she would continue the Bush administration's hard-line stance, for the most part. Clinton's campaign said she agrees that exiles should be able to freely send money to their relatives but said she does not favor ''any wholesale, broad changes'' to the travel restrictions. Clinton did vote with Obama in 2005 - unsuccessfully - to ease restrictions on family travel in ``humanitarian cases.''

The vote of Cuban Americans has been considered key for U.S. presidential candidates to win Florida. The community is deeply divided over the trade embargo on Cuba enforced by the U.S. since 1962.

"The blockade has to be dismantled and the rights of Cuba respected," Roque said.

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