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Cuban-American thinkers urge more openness from US

The United States should open up to Cuba and help citizens on the communist island to think independently of the state, a report by Cuban-American thinkers have said.

"The emphasis now has to be to help the Cubans help themselves; the responsibility is with them," said Francisco Hernandez on Wednesday, president of the Cuban American National Foundation.

The report -- presented at the Washington-based Brookings Institution and penned by Cuba analysts, academics and former European diplomats in Havana -- welcomed US President Obama's overtures to Cuba, but called for a greater openness in US policy.

Since taking office in January, Obama has lifted some travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans.

Last week he and Cuban President Raul Castro said they were ready for talks on a wide range of issues.

Carlos Saladrigas, with the Cuba Study Group, said the money sent to Cuba by Cuban-Americans could "create Cuban citizens that are independent of the Cuban state, allowing these people to become agents of social change in the future."

Up to now, he said, "we have done exactly what (former Cuban president) Fidel (Castro) wanted us to do, to look the people through the lens of the regime. The people should be more important than the regime."

That view echoed statements from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has said 50 years of adversarial US Cuba policy, enforced through a 47-year economic embargo, have failed.

According to Hernandez, the time has also come for change in the fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American community in Florida, long an important constituency in US elections.

He said a new generation of Cuban-Americans arrived in Miami in the 1990s who are more inclined to open relations with the island than to continue its isolation as traditional anti-Castro groups have staunchly pressed Washington to maintain.

In the short term, the report urges Obama to promote more travel by Americans to Cuba for greater contact between the two peoples.

It also calls for the US to work for Cuba's readmission to the Organization of American States and consider striking Cuba from a US blacklist of state-sponsors of terrorism.

In the medium and long-term, it recommends that US businesses be allowed to invest in Cuba's fledgling crude oil industry, that the US Navy base in Guantanamo Bay be returned to Cuba, and that full diplomatic relations be established with Havana.

Carl Meacham, who once worked for Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairman Richard Lugar, said the focus of US policy has to shift away from Washington to Havana.

"This is an opportunity to say we are going to do things in a different way ... We are not moving away from our principles, we are not saying that we don't want to talk about human rights, we are saying we need to see this from a different perspective.

"Isolation hasn't worked, maybe dialogue will," Meacham said.

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Publication:AFP American Edition
Date:Apr 23, 2009
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