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3 Feb, 2009 08:56

Will Obama lift the embargo on Cuba?

Cuba has had virtually no contact with US for almost 50 years. This contrasts with Russia, which despite being on the other side of the world, has given the Cuban government $354 million in loans.

With Barack Obama in the White House, Washington is promising to change the situation.

But why is Russia being so friendly to Cuba now?

“It irritates the United States. What the Russians are saying to the Americans is that if you are going to interfere in Georgia, Ukraine and Poland, we also have options in your backyard. It’s a very old game,” says George Friedman, head of global intelligence company Stratfor.

Because of the embargo, Cuba remains an exotic, almost forbidden, place for U.S. citizens. But Andres Martinez, a veteran U.S. journalist and scholar, has been to the island several times. He believes Cubans and Americans desperately need more contact.

“I was trying to talk to people on the streets, and engage in sort of informal exchanges and learn about the situation. I think on the part of most Cubans, there’s also this appetite to have more exchange with Americans. There’s this thirst to participate in the larger world out there,” Martinez says.

But this Cuban thirst might not be so easily quenched. Very few in the political establishment believe that the embargo will be lifted. Despite the promised radical changes in American foreign policy, the anti-Castro lobby remains powerful; there are too many people in America who can't forgive Fidel for what he did.

“The government that my parents left from is still in place. They took away all of my family’s personal property. In other words, they wanted to make it so difficult we would not have even a cent as punishment,” says Cuban-American Jorge Ponce.

Jorge Ponce was eleven years old when he and his family came to the United States. He has not been back to Havana in 43 years. He says he would go back only when Cuba is free, according to his understanding of the word. Only then, Jorge says, can sanctions be lifted.