The Obama administration has slightly relaxed restrictions on Cuba, thus restoring them to their level under the Clinton administration. Under the Bush administration these restrictions were ramped up. Now religious organizations will be able to sponsor religious travel to Cuba, a move calculated to encourage religion in Cuba, as is permission to send money to Cuban religious institutions.
Educational travel will be permitted to Cuba and any United States resident - not only a person with relatives in Cuba - can send up to $500 per quarter to support private economic activity. This latter measure is an attempt to take advantage of Cuba's first steps at privatization intended to shift part of the workforce from the public sector to self-employment.
While Cuba believes that these measures are too limited, it still welcomes them as a poke in the eye to two Republican Cuban-American political stars, the Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the silver-tongued freshman senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Both Ros-Lehtinen and Rubio criticized the Obama administration on the shift.
Rubio believes that the new changes are futile "and what does need to change are the Cuban regime's repressive policies towards the independent press and labor unions, its imprisonment of political prisoners and constant harassment of citizens with dissenting views, and its refusal to allow free multi-party elections." Ros-Lehtinen was equally caustic "These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them."
Some Cuban-Americans, particularly those who expect to benefit from the new regulations such as the owners of charter airlines to Cuba, welcome the new policies. They argue that the US has to get a foot into the door in anticipation of the post-Castro succession as even Fidel Castro's younger brother Raul Castro is 79. The administration can also point to the example of divided Germany as a case where the West created a sense of growing dependence in East Germany on West Germany by the remittance policy in which West Germany effectively subsidized the East.
It all depends on whether the Cuban government is willing to play along. Will its craving for foreign currency induce it to look away and allow the policy of cash-and-contacts to open up the island dictatorship? Ironically, an issue which has soured relations between Cuba and the Obama administration, that of Alan Gross, may indicate that the Castro regime is still willing to fight for its authoritarian identity. Gross, a 60-year-old contractor, was arrested in Cuba last year after attempting to help Cuba's Jewish community connect to the outside via the Internet. He was charged with spying and has lost 90 pounds in prison as well sensation in his right foot. He may be released after entering a guilty plea at a "trial," provided that the Castro regime will not use him as trade bait to spring Cuban agents convicted in the United States on espionage charges.