Cuban dissidents hail Obama for lifting travel curbs

April 14th, 2009 - 6:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Havana, April 14 (EFE) Cuban dissidents have described as “excellent” the news that US President Barack Obama has decided to lift restrictions on Cuban Americans’ travel and remittances to the island.
“It looks like an excellent thing to me, very positive, one that the Cuban people will receive joyfully,” economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, one of the 75 dissidents jailed in 2003 crackdown and who is now on a medical parole, told EFE.

Obama Monday ordered the State, Treasury and Commerce departments to start the process of ending the restrictions as soon as possible and to take measures to ease communications with Cuba.

The moves are accompanied by a call for the island’s communist government to not interfere with remittances or humanitarian shipments.

While praising Obama’s order, the Cuban dissidents called on President Raul Castro to respond positively to the US decision by freeing all political prisoners and eliminating the strict travel rules.

According to US officials, the idea behind Monday’s decision by Obama was to support the Cuban people’s desire to determine their own destiny.

“I was expecting this because I consider him a man of honour and he had said that he was going to do it,” Espinosa said in reference to the decision of Obama, who promised during the election campaign that he would end restrictions on Cuban Americans with relatives on the island.

He added that “logic” dictates that Havana should respond with a position that is “softer, more flexible under these new circumstances,” although often Cuba has gone “against that”.

For Elizardo Sanchez, head of the unrecognised Cuban Commission on Human Rights, the step taken by Obama is the “chronicle of a decision foretold” that can “favour the process of normalising bilateral relations”.

Sanchez believes that Obama’s decision now demands an “analogous” decision by Havana with the application of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on freedom of movement, so that Cubans can come and go “freely to and from the island”.

“There is room to hope for an at least symmetrical response from the Cuban government, although I confess my skepticism,” Sanchez said.

He added that the measures adopted in Washington and the announcements by Raul Castro on his readiness to establish a dialogue are still “timid steps” towards normalizing relations.

Miriam Leiva, founder of the Ladies in White group comprising relatives of the Group of 75, said that Obama’s decision “is very important” because “it eliminates an artificial separation of families and allows aid to the very needy here”.

Nonetheless, she said it was necessary for “Congress to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba”, and not just those who have families on the island, “because that would establish a contact that would allow a very beneficial interchange”.

Bills currently before the Democratic-controlled Congress would eliminate restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by all US residents, but that legislation faces opposition from Cuban American lawmakers and some exile groups.

By the same token, though some members of Congress support lifting the 47-year-old US economic embargo against Cuba, Obama says he will not consider such a move until there is democratic change on the island.

“I congratulate Obama on the step he has taken,” Hector Palacios, another paroled member of the Group of 75, told EFE, adding that it was Cuba’s turn to take the next step with the freeing of the roughly 200 political prisoners in the island’s jails.

Vladimiro Roca, of the Agenda for the Transition, said that Obama’s measure is “positive” and that the decision adopted in 2004 by the Bush administration to sharply restrict Cuban Americans’ travel and remittances to their homeland “harmed the people but not the Cuban government”.

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