Castro: US changes 'positive' but small
HAVANA - Fidel Castro said yesterday that the Obama administration's softening of sanctions is "positive although minimal," and criticized it for leaving in place the embargo that bars most trade and travel between the two countries.
The White House announced Monday that Americans will now be able to make unlimited transfers of money and visits to relatives in Cuba. Under previous Bush administration rules, Cuban-Americans could travel there just once every three years - a rule that was recently eased to once a year - and could send no more than $1,200 to needy relatives.
Monday's action eliminated those limits in the hope that less dependence on their government will lead Cubans to demand progress on political freedoms.
Many in Cuba saw this as a humanitarian gesture.
"You can imagine what it is like to have a marriage by telephone," Berta Maria Mayor, 45, said yesterday as she awaited the charter plane carrying her husband back to Cuba for the first time in three years. "I'm in love with someone I barely get to see."
Mayor said she hoped her husband could visit several times a year, although family finances are tight after his layoff from a Florida shirt factory job.
Castro responded to the measures in an online column Monday night, writing that the United States had announced the repeal of "several hateful restrictions" but had stopped short of real change.
"Of the blockade, which is the cruelest of measures, not a word was uttered," the former president wrote.
Castro, 82, noted that several US senators favor lifting the trade embargo and urged Obama to seize the opportunity.
"The conditions are in place for Obama to use his talent in a constructive policy that ends something that has failed for nearly half a century," he wrote.
In a second column yesterday, saying the changes were "positive, although minimal."
"We need a lot more," he wrote, singling out the elimination of the so-called "wet-foot, dry foot" policy whereby Cuban immigrants fleeing the island who are apprehended on the high seas are sent home, but those who make it to US territory are allowed to stay.
Castro also said Cuba would like to hear "some self-criticism" by the United States for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion 48 years ago and a guarantee that it won't happen again in the hemisphere.
He suggested Obama won't be in the White House long enough to undo the damage of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"We do not want to hurt Obama even in the slightest, but he will only be president for one or two terms," Castro wrote. "He is not responsible for what occurred, and I am sure that he will not commit the atrocities of Bush. After him, however, there could come another who is equal to or worse than his predecessor."
While analysts say the US policy change could usher in a new era of openness between the two countries, few Cubans think it will mean the end of the embargo, which has choked off nearly all US trade with the island for 47 years and counting.
But many are happy that relatives in America will be able to come whenever they want, stay as long as they want, and send as much cash home as they can.