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September 2010
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Cuba criticizes Obama for keeping embargo

Posted on Wednesday, 09.15.10
Cuba criticizes Obama for keeping
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA — Cuba's foreign minister said Wednesday that President Barack
Obama has missed a golden opportunity to improve relations, lamenting
that nearly two years after he offered an olive branch to America's
traditional foes, the U.S. leader has "not lived up to expectations."

In a yearly speech on the cost of America's 48-year trade embargo, which
Cuba refers to as a "blockade," Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said
Obama had actually increased enforcement of the embargo since taking
over from President George W. Bush, who had a more outwardly hardline
policy toward the island.

"The policy of the blockade under President Obama … hasn't changed at
all, and one could say that in several aspects, enforcement of the
blockade … has gotten even stricter," Rodriguez said.

He pointed to several instances in which the United States has fined
international companies for doing business with Cuba in recent months,
and said even medical supplies – in theory exempted from the embargo –
often don't get through due to excessive red tape.

Washington first imposed economic sanctions in 1961 – shortly after it
broke off diplomatic relations in response to 's decision to
expropriate U.S. property and embrace more overtly socialist policies.
The embargo took its current form in February 1962, and has been
continued through 10 U.S. administrations.

Rodriguez said the policy had cost the cash-strapped island some $751
billion since its inception, when taking into account inflation and
other factors. U.S. officials scoff at the Cuban figures, and say the
island's leaders use it as an excuse for a failed communist economic
model that could never stand on its own, and which is plagued by
corruption and inefficiency.

Rodriguez's comments were part of a yearly ritual in which Cuba steps up
its criticism of U.S. policy ahead of an annual United Nations vote in
which the world overwhelmingly condemns the embargo. Last year, the vote
was 187-3, with only Israel and the tiny Pacific island of Palau siding
with Washington.

Rodriguez noted that Obama said in April 2009 that he sought a "new
beginning" with Havana, and accused him of not living up to his words.

"He was elected to change things," Rodriguez said. "There is a vacuum,
an abyss, a contradiction, between the speeches the president has made
and his actions in relation to Cuba."

Obama has loosened restrictions on and remittances by Cuban
Americans, has restarted midlevel talks between Cuban and U.S. officials
on mail service and immigration, and has made it easier for Cuban
artists to get visas to travel to the United States.

Repealing the embargo would take congressional action, but Cuba's top
diplomat argued there are many things that Obama could do to alter its
enforcement, including rolling back several measures adopted under
President Bush that make it harder for students, educators and
researchers to come to the island.

"I cannot explain why Obama continues to apply this blockade against
Cuba when he has the power to modify it substantially," said Rodriguez.
"When he has the opportunity to be the leader of a historic change."

Asked if Cuba's continued detention of American contractor Alan Gross
was a stumbling block in ending the embargo, Rodriguez said only that
Washington never had a problem finding excuses when it sought to justify
its policies. Gross has been in jailed without charge since December.
Cuban officials have accused him of spying.

Rodriguez said that even American allies have repeatedly condemned U.S.
policy toward Cuba and he noted that American citizens can travel freely
to Baghdad and Kabul – but not Havana.

Rodriguez said the policy, enacted during President John F. Kennedy, had
not brought America "even one millimeter closer to its objectives" in Cuba.

"It is a Cold War museum piece," Rodriguez said. "It is a policy that
has failed for 50 years, and any policy that has failed for 50 years
deserves another look."

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