WASHINGTON (CNN) - Nearly 50 years after the U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba, President Obama took steps this week that may lead to improved relations with the island nation.
The president loosened restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting and sending money home to relatives who still live in Cuba, and a White House spokesman said the U.S. will begin sending humanitarian assistance "directly to the Cuban people."
Obama heads to the Summit of Americas Friday in Trinidad and Tobago. Cuba is expected to be a topic of discussion.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll shows that 71 percent of Americans support reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, while 64 percent of Americans back lifting the U.S. ban on travel to the island nation.
What do you think? Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) - When President Obama arrives in Trinidad and Tobago this week for the Summit of the Americas, the one country in the region not present may be the one he hears the most about: Cuba.
Latin American leaders overwhelmingly oppose the U.S. trade embargo imposed on the communist island in 1962 - years after Fidel Castro led a revolution to overthrow Cuba's Batista dictatorship.
Although Castro was credited with bringing social reforms to Cuba, he has been criticized around the world for oppressing human rights and free speech.
Several Latin American leaders have said they'll bring up the trade embargo at the summit. But this time it's not just Washington's usual critics.
Last month at the White House, Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva urged the U.S. to normalize relations with Cuba. Obama and Lula da Silva are among the leaders scheduled to attend the Summit of the Americas this week.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Obama administration has decided to loosen restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, senior administration officials confirmed Monday.
The White House plans to announce the change later in the day.
The decision represents a significant shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba. It comes days before Obama leaves for the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Related: 7 in 10 Americans back diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to a CNN/ORC poll
Before he was elected president, Obama promised to lower some of the barriers in Cuban-American relations. Provisions attached to a $410 billion supplemental budget Obama signed in March also made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba and to send money to family members on the island. In addition, they facilitated the sale of agricultural and pharmaceutical products to Cuba.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Cuba purposely has made life difficult for U.S. diplomats serving in the U.S. Interest Section in Havana and has even poisoned family pets to hurt American morale, according to a State Department report released Friday.
The report dates back to 2007, but its release comes just days before the Obama administration is expected to ease some restrictions on Cuban-Americans sending money to Cuba and visiting family there.
And it is made public just days after a Congressional Black Caucus delegation returned from Cuba and provided glowing reports of how they were received by Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro.
The report was prepared by the State Department inspector general. It repeatedly mentions poor morale among U.S. diplomats serving in Cuba, saying the Cuban government "lets you know it's hostile."
Without full diplomatic relations with Cuba, and with a trade and travel embargo still in place, there is no U.S. Embassy. The Interests Section issues visas and performs other diplomatic services.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama is getting ready to visit to the Summit of the Americas next week amid rising reports the administration is planning to announce new rules on family travel and remittances to Cuba. Do Americans back a plan to relax some of the current restrictions on that island nation?
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Friday suggests the answer is yes. Nearly two thirds think the United States should lift its ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba. And seven in ten think it's time to re-establish diplomatic relations with that country.
" Republicans as well as Democrats favor re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "On the issue of lifting travel restrictions, Republicans are evenly divided, while Independents and Democrats support the change."
The CNN/ORC telephone poll of 1,023 Americans was conducted April 3-5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Two Republican congressmen ripped Congressional Black Caucus members for ignoring Cuba's "myriad gross human rights abuses" Thursday, saying this week's caucus trip to the island nation ignored the plight of political prisoners under the Castro regime.
They also urged the Obama administration to refrain from easing trade embargo or travel restrictions until the Cuban government releases all "prisoners of conscience," shows greater respect for freedom of religion and speech, and holds "free and fair" elections.
The call from Reps. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, came three days after the administration signaled that new rules on family travel and remittances to Cuba may be announced before President Obama goes to the Summit of the Americas on April 17.
It also followed statements from several Black Caucus members Tuesday arguing for consideration of an end to the trade embargo and other diplomatic restrictions placed on Cuba for five decades.
(CNN) - A Missouri congressman is denying former Cuban president Fidel Castro's claim that a member of the fact-finding delegation described the U.S. as "racist."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is one of the seven lawmakers who visited the island nation on a congressional delegation. Members of the CBC met with President Raul Castro and three of which met with brother, Fidel, at the home of the Cuban revolutionary leader.
In a statement released by the Cuban government, Fidel Castro praised the seven Democratic congressional delegates and alleges that one member said that despite President Obama's electoral victory, "America continues to be racist." The former Cuban president would not disclose the name of the delegate who allegedly made such statement.
Cleaver denied such a comment was ever made at a news conference following the delegation's return Tuesday night.
"That did not happen," Cleaver said
Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the CBC who led the delegation to Cuba, said she did "not have any comment with regard to that. I am not privy to anyone saying that in any meaning. I don't remember that."
Cuban-American Republican lawmakers blasted the CBC members' visits with Raul and Fidel Castro.
"Regardless of one's position on US Cuba policy, one would expect that any US official or Member of Congress visiting Cuba would have the courage to meet with members of Cuba's struggling independent civil society and raise concerns about the regime's systematic violation of human rights with Cuban officials," Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said in a statement issued Wednesday.
"To meet with the Castro brothers and not bring up the subject of their appalling human rights abuses is a shameful missed opportunity," Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also said in a statement.
(CNN) - "It's time to talk to Cuba."
That frank assessment from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, has resonated loud and clear from the island of Cuba - 90 miles from the southernmost point of Florida - to the halls of Congress.
For the first time in nearly 50 years, relations between the two nations, which has a history steeped in tension, have seemed to ease a bit.
And that was no more apparent than this week, as a delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus traveled to the communist country on a fact-finding mission, with plans to deliver a report to the White House.
"Our purpose was to see if there were preconditions on the Cuban side. We heard that there were no preconditions," Lee said Wednesday. "And, in fact, we wanted to find out if they were interested. We have to remember that every country in Latin America, 15 countries, have normal relations with Cuba. ... We're the country which is isolated."
(CNN) – Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Fidel Castro Tuesday in Cuba, marking the first time the former Cuban president has met with US leaders since in 2006.
A delegation of congressional Democrats, led by Barbara Lee of California, arrived in Cuba last week to discuss bilateral relations with and review new policies regarding trade and commerce between the US and island nation. The group of seven includes members of the CBS, Reps. Mel Watt of North Carolina, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Bobby Rush of Illinois, and Laura Richardson on California, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus member Mike Honda of California.
President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, held talks with the six Congressional Black Caucus members of the delegation Monday in Havana.
The trip follows the introduction of a bill last week by a bipartisan group of senators to lift the travel ban on Cuba, maintaining the end of the travel restriction would advance democracy, promote human rights, and benefit US agriculture and small business groups. If passed, The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act would allow US citizens to travel freely to nation for the first time since 1962.
Cuban-born Republican Sen. Mel Martinez opposes the legislation, arguing that opening the communist-led island for tourist travel would perpetuate the repression of the "Castro regime."
But new changes to US Cuba travel policy could be coming soon. White House Adviser Jeffrey Davidson said Monday he would not be surprised if the Obama administration announced the easing of restrictions to the island before the Summit of the Americas on April 17. The move would fulfill a campaign promise by the then-presidential candidate to ease Cuban-American travel restrictions.
President Castro has said he is open to talks with the Obama administration.
Listen: CNN Radio on the new move in Congress to change U.S. relations with Cuba
(CNN) – Who is candidate No. 5 in the Gov. Blagojevich scandal? While specific names are not referenced in the affidavit disclosing six prospective candidates in the running for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, details emerged regarding one candidate in particular – No. 5. In the latest installment of CNN=Politics Daily, CNN’s Drew Griffin takes a close look at this candidate as he maintains he had no involvement in the wrongdoing.
Also: She attends numerous events per year, logs hundreds of hours of volunteer work, entertains visitors from all over the world, and takes up causes of her own. So should the nation’s first lady be on the White House payroll? CNN’s Alina Cho reports.
Plus: One of President-elect Barack Obama’s biggest campaign promises was to fix America’s broken infrastructure and create American jobs in the process. Is this the answer to heal the nation’s ongoing economic trouble? CNN’s Alan Chertoff has the story.
Finally: During his campaign, President-elect Obama said his policy toward Cuba will be guided by one-word: freedom. So, what will this mean in practice? Havana, Cuba Bureau Chief Morgan Neil has Thursday’s “Memo to the President.”
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