Saturday, August 29, 2009

Governor sees hope of better Cuba ties

Governor sees hope of better Cuba ties
By Will Weissert

Associated Press
HAVANA - The United States and Cuba need time to reverse nearly half a
century of bad blood, but both sides are more open to doing so than they
have been in years, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said yesterday.

Richardson, a Democrat and former top U.S. diplomat who knows Fidel
Castro personally, said he would like to facilitate dialogue between the
communist government and the Cuban American exile community - but has no
interest in being a special U.S. envoy tasked with repairing relations
with Cuba.

"There is a good atmosphere. It's the best atmosphere I've seen for an
improvement," Richardson said at a news conference at the historic Hotel
Nacional during a four-day visit to Cuba. "What is needed is concrete
steps from both sides. It's very important that we build more confidence
in each other before we tackle the bold, divisive issues."

He did not see Fidel or his younger brother, President Raul Castro, but
he met twice with Ricardo Alarcon, the head of Cuba's parliament, as
well as officials in the Foreign Relations and Tourism Ministries before
leaving the island yesterday.

Fidel Castro did send him a note containing a "positive message."

"He just basically said hello," said Richardson, who declined to comment

The governor said Washington and Havana were not ready to discuss
lifting the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo or the release of political
prisoners on the island.

Instead, he said, the U.S. government should better solidify President
Obama's decision to ease restrictions on Cuban Americans who want to
travel or send money to Cuba, and should allow more U.S. business
leaders, athletes, artists, and academics to go to Cuba; let Cuban
biotechnology products be sold on the U.S. market; and let Cubans attend
U.S. scientific and business conferences.

Cuba, Richardson said, should let its citizens travel to the United
States with fewer limits and fees, accept Washington's proposal to let
diplomats from both countries travel more freely, and open a dialogue
with Cuban Americans.

"I did raise these issues with Cuban officials," he said. "They are
considering some steps."

The Obama White House has loosened restrictions on family travel and
remittances but suggested it would like to see Cuba respond with small
political or economic reforms - calls Havana has ignored.

Richardson said a wild card could be Cuban Americans. He said he "would
be happy to broker" dialogue between the Havana and exiles in the United

Governor sees hope of better Cuba ties | Philadelphia Inquirer |
08/29/2009 (29 August 2009)

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