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Rep. Castor to Obama: Let families visit Cuban kin

TAMPA — Florida congressional leaders are wasting no time asking President-elect Obama to roll back hard-line Bush policies against Cuba.

In a letter sent Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, asked Obama to lift restrictions limiting Cuban-American visits to the island.

She also wants him to remove the $300 annual limit on how much people in the United States can send family members in Cuba. "I respectfully urge you to breathe fresh air into our relationships with our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean and to modernize policies relating to Cuba," Castor wrote. "The restrictions have proven ineffective in altering the political situation and interfere with fundamental family relations with human rights."

In 2004, President Bush instituted changes in the Cuban travel policy, principally limiting Cuban-Americans to visiting the island once every three years instead of once a year. The move aimed to stop the flow of dollars to the country until Cuba improved on human rights.

But Castor said the restrictions hurt families unable to visit sick or dying relatives without being subjected to "the worst kind of bureaucratic red tape."

In one case, Castor's spokeswoman said, a woman received a license in 2003 to travel to Cuba to visit her gravely ill grandfather, but canceled plans when he got better. When his health deteriorated in 2006, she was denied.

Castor wrote of Cuban-Americans unable to assist relatives when Hurricane Gustav ripped through Cuba this summer.

Castor's request appears to be in line with the majority of Cuban-Americans. The 2007 annual Florida International University Cuba Poll, which measures the political attitudes of Cuban-Americans in South Florida, found that about 64 percent of the respondents would like to return to the 2003 policies governing travel and remittances.

Anti-Castro activist and Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez agreed with the easing of restrictions. "Let's not waste time on these senseless regulations that only affect a few," he said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Rep. Castor to Obama: Let families visit Cuban kin 12/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 4:18pm]
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