April 14, 2009 / 3:02 PM / 10 years ago

Castro says Obama steps positive, but more needed

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Tuesday praised the Obama administration for lifting U.S. restrictions on family travel to Cuba, but said more changes were needed in U.S. policy toward the island.

A man walks past a billboard with pictures of retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, August 12, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

“The measure of easing the restrictions on trips is positive although minimal. Many others are needed,” Castro wrote in a column published on a Cuban government website.

The reclusive 82-year-old Castro criticized in particular the U.S. policy of granting Cuban emigres almost automatic residency if they reach American soil, which encourages Cubans to leave their communist-run country by sea.

Castro’s comments came in his second column of the day, after he complained in his first one that the White House had done nothing to end the 47-year U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, vowing that Havana would not beg for it to be lifted.

“We do not have the slightest desire to harm Obama,” Castro said. “He doesn’t have responsibility for what occurred and I’m sure he won’t commit the atrocities of (former President George W.) Bush,” he said.

Castro ceded power last year to his younger brother and now President Raul Castro due to illness, but he remains a powerful voice through his columns.

His columns have been the only official Cuban response to Monday’s announcement by President Barack Obama granting Cuban Americans the right to travel freely to Cuba and removing limits on how much money they can send to family there.

Obama’s steps were a shift from policy under Bush, who tightened sanctions against Cuba in a failed bid to bring about political changes to the one-party state.

In his first column, Castro complained that the White House announcement said “not one word about the blockade (embargo), which is the most cruel of the (U.S.) measures (against Cuba).”

He described the embargo as a form of “genocide” that hurt Cuba’s economy and caused death and suffering by denying medical equipment and drugs to the Cuban people.

NO BEGGING

But, he went on, “Cuba has resisted and will resist. It will never extend its hands to beg.”

“It will go forward with its head high, cooperating with its Latin American and Caribbean brothers,” he wrote.

Obama also eliminated with some restrictions for U.S. telecommunications companies, opening the way for them to offer services to Cuba to promote a “freer flow of information”, U.S. officials said.

Castro mentioned neither those measures nor the remittances in either column.

The White House announcement came ahead of a Summit of the Americas that starts on Friday in Trinidad and Tobago, where Obama is expected to come under fire from regional leaders over the U.S. Cuba policy, which critics say is obsolete.

White House spokesmen said the new measures were meant to help Cuban families and promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. Opponents of the U.S. embargo said the moves did not go far enough, but they hoped they were just a first step toward dismantling the economic sanctions against Cuba.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro is seen in Havana, January 21, 2009. REUTERS/Argentine Presidency/Handout

Obama has said he wants dialogue and improved relations with Cuba, but that the embargo should be maintained until the Cuban government shows progress on democracy and rights.

Castro said “the conditions are created for Obama to use his talent in a constructive policy that puts an end to what has failed for the past half century.”

He pointed out that Raul Castro had expressed his willingness to hold talks with the United States and he said Cuba did not question Obama’s “sincerity and desire to change the policy and image of the United States.”

Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Anthony Boadle

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