Exile groups join in urging an easing of Cuba restrictions

December 4, 2006

Miami Herald- Oscar Corral

An umbrella group of influential Cuban exile organizations has joined the growing chorus of Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits calling for the United States to ease restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.

About two dozen exile organizations, speaking in unison under the umbrella group Consenso Cubano, or Cuban Consensus, will release a report today calling for the Bush administration to ease travel restrictions. The groups say U.S. policies that restrict Cubans from visiting family members and that limit remittances and other humanitarian aid ``violate fundamental rights of Cubans, damage the Cuban family, and constitute ethical contradictions.'

The announcement underscores a growing rift between hard-line exile leaders who want to preserve the sanctions, and more moderate Cuban Americans in Miami and dissidents in Cuba who feel that increasing interaction can help promote a peaceful transition to democracy.

The disconnection has manifested itself at a time that an ailing Fidel Castro is no longer in power in Cuba, having temporarily transferred authority to his brother Raúl. And last month, Democrats took control of the U.S. House and Senate, which could trigger a reexamination of U.S.-Cuba policy.

Just last week, U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart appeared on a popular Spanish-language television talk show, A Mano Limpia, in which they defended U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The station conducted a viewer poll during the program, and it showed that most callers favored the easing of travel and remittance restrictions.

`ON THE BRINK'

'We are on the brink of potentially monumental changes in Cuba relating to Fidel Castro's demise,' said state Rep. David Rivera, who spearheaded a call three years ago for the Bush administration to tighten the U.S. embargo.

``Now is not the time to be considering any relaxing of sanctions on the Castro dictatorship. That is not an option for the administration or the majority of Cuban Americans.'

Consenso Cubano, which includes mostly moderate exile groups such as the Cuba Study Group, Democracy Movement and the Cuban American National Foundation, plans to hold a news conference today.

Consenso groups are also asking the Cuban government to lift restrictions on family travel.

'The measures which limit or deny Cubans their fundamental rights to travel freely to and from Cuba for humanitarian or family reasons . . . and their ability to freely send and receive personal and family aid, violates the fundamental rights of Cubans,' said Consenso's ``humanitarian agenda.'

Oscar Visiedo, executive director of the Instituto de Estudios Cubanos, or Institute of Cuban Studies (not to be confused with the Cuba Study Group), said current restrictions on family travel and humanitarian assistance seem to be impeding a democratic transition on the island.

'My personal opinion is that we've seen that current policy isn't working,' Visiedo said.

The announcement comes just a few days after top dissidents in Cuba signed a letter saying that easing remittance and travel restrictions to Cuba would help them in their struggle for freedom and democracy from within Cuba.

The dissidents said restrictions on family travel and on sending humanitarian aid ``in no way help the struggle for democracy we wage inside our country.'

SHARED VIEWS?

Marcelino Miyares, president of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Cuba, or Christian Democratic Party of Cuba, one of the Consenso organizations, said the dissidents' position shows that pro-democracy Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits are coming closer together in their policy thinking.

'They are thinking the same thing in Cuba as we are here,' Miyares said.


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