Dissident's visit warms Washington's Cuba Cold War

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 19, 2013 8:00pm GMT

Cuba's best-known dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez waves before giving a speech to students of the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City March 13, 2013. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Cuba's best-known dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez waves before giving a speech to students of the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City March 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A visit to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday by Cuba's best-known dissident may have slightly narrowed one of Washington's long-standing political gaps - the angry dispute over the U.S. embargo against the Communist government in Havana.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez met on Tuesday with both Democratic and Republican members of Congress, including some of the staunchest Cuban-American supporters of the 53-year-old economic embargo against her country.

In the past, some hard-liners have been reluctant to voice strong support for Cuban dissidents who want major changes in U.S. policy, including ending the ban on most trade between the United States and the Caribbean island nation.

Sanchez was first invited to Capitol Hill by two Florida Democrats, Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American who promotes President Barack Obama's easing of restrictions on Cuba and backs expanded U.S. travel to the island.

But she also met with prominent Cuban-American Republicans who strongly support the continuation of the tough restrictions, including Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Sanchez says the embargo is an excuse for the Cuban government to blame the country's economic problems on the United States, rather than its own policies. But embargo supporters say any easing would provide hundreds of millions of dollars to prop up the island's government.

'UNITY IN THE CAUSE'

"There has not been a change in attitude or position about dissidents who advocate for freedom and democracy in Cuba," said Ros-Lehtinen, one of the top Republicans on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. "Our goals remain the same and there is unity in the cause. We disagree on how to reach that goal and it has been that way and will continue."

Cuba is in a period of potential change. President Raul Castro has been pushing through cautious reforms such as the elimination of travel restrictions that allowed Sanchez to make her 80-day tour of more than a dozen countries.

The country also lost a major financial sponsor and counterbalance to U.S. influence in Latin America with the death this month of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez' hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, is expected to continue the country's support for Cuba if he wins the presidential election next month.

Castro, 81, who succeeded his ailing older brother Fidel as president in 2008, announced last month that he would step down as president after his second term ends in 2018.

Sanchez, 37, has been blogging since 2007, attracting an audience of half a million people for posts about the hardships of life in Cuba. She also uses Twitter to denounce repression.

She visited Washington after a stop in New York. She is due to visit Miami, the centre of Cuban-American life in the United States and home to her sister and niece, on April 1.

Protesters who back Cuba's government have heckled Sanchez at several stops during her tour.

(Editing by Warren Strobel and)

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Comments (1)
DChris wrote:
The US is truly isolated on the world stage with their insane Cuba policy. Not even their closest allies at the UN will support it. For 20 years in a row now, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn these cruel and inhumane sanctions. Last year, only Israel who trades freely with Cuba anyway and the tiny US island-colony of Palau voted with the US against the resolution.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International have also condemned the US embargo saying (my emphasis):

“The US government is acting CONTRARY to the Charter of the United Nations [i.e. it is illegal] by restricting the direct import of medicine and medical equipment and supplies, and by imposing those restrictions on companies operating in third countries.”

“The RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED BY THE EMBARGO help to deprive Cuba of vital access to medicines, new scientific and medical technology, food, chemical water treatment and electricity.”

“The US embargo against Cuba is IMMORAL and should be lifted.”

“Amnesty International calls on the US Congress to take, WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY, the necessary steps towards lifting the economic, financial and trade embargo against Cuba.”

“UN agencies working in Cuba, such as the WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA, continued [as of 2012] to report the negative effects of the US embargo on the health of the population, particularly members of marginalized groups. Access to specific commodities, equipment, medicines and laboratory materials remained scarce as a result of restrictions imposed on the importation of items manufactured by US companies and their subsidiaries or produced under US patents.”

Mar 19, 2013 8:41pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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