Obama handles Cuba blockade with velvet glove

President Barack Obama has lifted some of the restrictions for Cuban Americans wishing to stay in touch with their native soil, but has stopped short of ending the decades-old trade embargo that's left Cuba struggling.

Under the Bush Administration, Cuban Americans living in the US were only allowed to go to Cuba once every three years and to stay there for no more than two weeks. Now they can do it as often as they like.

Restrictions on the amount of money they can transfer to their family members living in Cuba have also been lifted.

Moreover, telecommunication companies can now offer services in Cuba.

At the same time the trade embargo has not been lifted and it seems unlikely to change in the near future.

Andres Martinez, founder of the New America Foundation, says these changes are purely cosmetic:

“It’s kind of status quo warmed over, and I’m afraid it’s a little bit too late. When President Obama goes to a summit meeting later this week with his Latin American counterparts, they are not going to be very impressed by this new policy and they are still going to perceive that the US is an empire bully vis-à-vis Cuba,” Martinez said.

US embargo against Cuba

In 1958 when the Cuban revolution started, the US government imposed an arms embargo on the country. When the new communist leadership started expropriating the property of American companies, the US responded with a series of trade and financial restrictions. Cuba on its side allied with the Soviet Union, and America imposed travel restrictions in addition to those already in place. The embargo has since been modified many times by several administrations. The UN has on numerous occasions called the US to lift the restrictions.

More than 70% of the current Cuban population was born during the embargo, the longest one of its kind in modern history. Havana says the blockade has cost it $US 100 billion over half a century.

Normal American citizens have not benefitted from the changes either, as they are still not allowed to travel to Cuba. They say it should be also changed, as otherwise the US is just perpetuating the Cold War mentality.

Cuba’s say

The Cuban side has reacted positively to the thaw, but Fidel Castro says these measures are still not enough to overcome the US-Cuba standoff, according to news agency Ria Novosti.

Castro has favoured Barack Obama’s openness for a dialogue and his wish to change America’s policy and image, but expressed concern that “not a word was said about the trade embargo – the toughest measure.”

“The damage that it is causing is measured not only by the economic affect. It costs human lives and causes the suffering of our citizens,” Fidel Castro said.

Castro added that the Cuban authorities are also open for a dialogue with the American side but only in the case that it will be based on the ‘steadfast respect of the sovereignty of both countries’.

Fidel Castro concluded that, if necessary, Cuba will continue to resist the American embargo which has already lasted some 50 years.