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Crist shifts view on Cuban travel restrictions

As the Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist backed U.S. sanctions against Cuba and signed off on a state law hiking costs on agencies that book trips to the repressive regime.

But as a newly independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, Crist is slated to collect checks from some of the same people who successfully fought to overturn the law last year and who advocate opening a dialogue with Cuba.

Crist's Cuba position is the latest example of his that-was-then, this-is-now political strategy as he tries to build a statewide campaign outside the traditional Republican Party. The heavily Republican Cuban exile community backs strict limits on travel and remittances to Cuba, which they see as financially propping up the communist dictatorship.

The Obama administration lifted virtually all restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to the island last year, overturning a Bush administration ruling that had limited their trips to once every three years.

Crist said Monday that he supports the Democratic administration's decision last year to maintain the long-standing trade embargo but allow Cuban-Americans to freely visit their relatives and send money. At the time, President Barack Obama said the former Republican administration's policy had failed to foster democracy but hurt the Cuban people.

"I think the current policy in place is responsible," said Crist, who was in Miami Beach to meet with political and business leaders about the gulf oil spill. "I do support the embargo, and I think that what the current administration has done by allowing families to visit (Cuba) is compassionate."

Asked about the organizers of his upcoming fundraiser, some of whom favor going further to lift sanctions, Crist said, "I want to listen to what they have to say."

The co-hosts include Maria "Tessie'' Aral of ABC Charters, one of about a dozen businesses that balked at the state's proposed crackdown on Cuba travel, and Alfredo Duran, a lawyer and former Florida Democratic Party chairman who promotes open travel and dialogue. Both support legislation that would allow any U.S. citizen to visit Cuba.

"Crist seems open to listening to different points of view since he's moved toward the middle," Aral said. "He hasn't promised anything, and I don't know what he will do in the future, but he seemed receptive to conversing."

That outraged state Rep. David Rivera, the Miami Republican who spearheaded the Crist-backed 2008 bill to require businesses to post a $250,000 bond if they book direct tours to Cuba. Rivera noted that he also passed legislation under Crist this year to withhold funding from universities that facilitate trips to Cuba.

Both leading Democratic candidates for the open Senate seat, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and real estate mogul Jeff Greene, support Obama's policy on allowing Cuban-Americans to freely visit their families.

Crist shifts view on Cuban travel restrictions 06/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 10:40pm]

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