HAVANA TIMES — A group of influential persons in United States’ politics, including prominent Republicans, called on President Barack Obama today to use his executive powers to enact measures to take steps that broaden the opening towards Cuba that he began at the beginning of his first term in office, reported dpa.
“Now more than ever, the United States can help the Cuban people to decide their own future by building on US policy reforms that have already begun,” states an “open letter to President Obama,” referring to the easing of travel restrictions to the island and sending of remittances by Cuban Americans that the president ordered shortly after arriving at the White House in 2009.
The initial measures were widely applauded by a Latin America that continues to reproach Washington for its hardline stance against Cuba, with an economic and trade embargo of more than half a century. No further policy changes followed.
The stagnation is partially due to Cuba’s imprisonment in late 2009 of US agent Alan Gross, sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the integrity of the State, after Cuban authorities caught him trying to smuggle into Cuba sophisticated telecommunications equipment prohibited on the island.
The letter to Obama was signed by more than 40 influential people in US politics, including – and this is what distinguishes this initiative from similar previous ones – Republican politicians and personalities of the Cuban-American community of Miami, other former officials for government policy in Latin America and former senior military officers.
The letter is signed by three former under secretaries of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Jeff Davidow , Alec Watson and Arturo Valenzuela; two former representatives of the US Interests Section in Havana – including Michael Palmry, appointed by Republican George W. Bush, and former supreme Allied Commander of NATO and commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) James Stavridis.
Others signing the petition to Obama are former Under Secretary of State John Negroponte, former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and representatives of the Cuban-American community such as Carlos Saladrigas, Rick Arriola, Jorge Perez and Andres Fanjul.
The letter acknowledges there is “little” that can be done in Congress due to the “current political environment.” However it stresses that Obama has the “unprecedented opportunity” to promote a “significant breakthrough” by using his executive authority “at a time when public opinion on Cuba leans toward greater interaction with the Cuban people, while at the same time continuing to pressure the Cuban government on human rights.”
The letter notes that Obama could “extend and ensure” travel to Cuba for “all” Americans, not just Cuban Americans or special religious or cultural groups such as has happened thus far.
They believe that Obama should increase support for Cuban civil society by allowing the sending of unlimited funds to people in Cuba who don’t have family ties with the recipient. This would, it states, “support independent activity in Cuba.”
The letter also requests freedom to import and export certain goods and services between the US private sector and independent Cuban business people as well as allowing private organizations in the US to offer loans to small farmers, cooperatives and small private business people. Another item would be permitting the sale of telecommunications hardware to the island.
Politically, the letter proposes that Obama “prioritize interaction” with Cuban authorities on areas of mutual interest, maintaining “serious discussions” on issues such as national security, migration, drug trafficking and the environment.
In this way, Washington could in turn exert “pressure” on the Cuban authorities regarding issues such as the release of Alan Gross or human rights concerns.
Finally, the petitioners contend that the Obama administration should take steps to ensure that financial institutions have the necessary authority to perform all such approved activities.
Such measures, they say, could “deepen the changes already underway” on the island as a greater freedom to private organizations and individuals could indirectly serve as a “catalyst for meaningful change in Cuba.”
“President Obama has repeatedly noted the ineffectiveness of US policy towards Cuba. The time has come to take steps to increase support for Cuban civil society,” said Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group organization promoting the initiative.