Rice: Not wise to end Cuban economic embargo now
RABAT, Morocco (AP) — The Bush administration said Sunday it sees no wisdom now in ending an economic embargo against Cuba, a longtime demand the Havana government renewed as a way to speed aid after Hurricane Gustav swamped the island.
A U.S. offer to send a disaster assessment team was declined Saturday by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, which did not mention the $100,000 in humanitarian assistance that Washington also offered through nonprofit groups.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, wrapping up a trip to North Africa, told reporters that President Bush consistently has said the U.S. would be responsive "to a Cuban regime that is prepared to release political prisoners (and) has a process to get to free and fair elections." But, she added, "we can see nothing that suggests that has come about."
Cuba said Saturday it would rather Washington suspend restrictions on travel and the sale of food and other materials it needs to recover.
With another powerful storm, Hurricane Ike, bearing down, the Cuban ministry contended that "the only correct, ethical (action) ... would be the total and definitive elimination of the harsh and cruel economic, commercial and financial blockade applied over nearly a half century against our nation."
Rice said that did not seem possible under current conditions, with Raul Castro in charge after replacing his brother, Fidel, who stepped down in February.
"What we can't do is to have the transfer of power from one dictatorial regime to another," Rice said. "That is not acceptable in a Western Hemisphere that is democratic and it is not acceptable for the Cuban people. So I don't think in the context that we see now that the lifting of the embargo would be wise."
As Ike struck eastern Cuba on Sunday night, the State Department issued a travel warning, authorizing the departure of non-emergency personnel and eligible family members of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. "U.S. citizens in Cuba who do not have access to adequate and safe shelter should consider departing while commercial flights are still available," the department said.
Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a statement expressing sympathy for Cubans who had been hit hard by Gustav. He asked Bush "to immediately suspend restrictions on family remittances, visits and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans for a minimum of 90 days."
Also last week, five Cuban-American members of Congress urged the Bush administration to provide direct assistance to Gustav's victims in Cuba. They said, however, that aid could be provided without changing U.S. law to lift the restrictions.
Currently, people of Cuban origin living in the U.S. can visit the island only once every three years and can send money only to members of their immediate families, excluding cousins, aunts and uncles.
Fidel Castro wrote this past week that recovery from Gustav could cost billions of dollars on an island where the average state salary is only about $20 per month. Gustav damaged 100,000 homes on Cuba.
Comment: leaving aside the long term issue of ending the embargo, Rice is non-responsive to the push to suspend restrictions for at least Cuban Americans for 90 days so they can provide direct assistance to family members.