Negroponte Leads Group Urging Obama to Ease Cuba Embargo

A group of 44 former high-ranking U.S diplomats, civil servants, military officers and Cuban-American businessmen is calling on President Barack Obama to further loosen a half-century embargo on the Communist regime in Cuba.

In an open letter sent to Obama, the group, which includes former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, former head of the U.S. Southern Command Admiral James Stavridis and Andres Fanjul, co-owner of sugarcane producer Fanjul Corp., called on Obama to expand the roster of groups allowed to organize travel to the island, authorize import and export licenses between the two countries’ private sectors and encourage the expansion of telecommunications in Cuba by permitting the sale of hardware.

“The U.S. is finding itself increasingly isolated internationally in its Cuba policy,” the group said in the letter. “The Obama administration has an unprecedented opportunity to usher in significant progress using its executive authority at a time when public opinion on Cuba policy has shifted toward greater engagement with the Cuban people while continuing to pressure the Cuban government on human rights.”

Chamber of Commerce

Hours after the letter was released, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said its president, Thomas Donohue, will lead a delegation to Cuba next week to “develop a better understanding of the country’s current economic environment and the state of its private sector.” He said he’ll be joined by Marcel Smits, chief financial officer for agriculture company Cargill Inc.

Obama reversed some restrictions put in place by his predecessor, George W. Bush, which had tightened an embargo first established by John F. Kennedy in 1962. He used executive powers in January 2011 to ease travel restrictions to Cuba that now allow higher education institutions to sponsor trips to the Caribbean island. Americans can also now send as much as $500 every three months to Cuban citizens who aren’t part of the government or members of the Communist party.

Negroponte was appointed by Bush as director of national intelligence.

Other signatories to the letter include former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, former Under Secretary of Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, Cuban-American businessmen such as Jorge Perez, chief executive officer of real estate developer The Related Group of Florida and three former Assistant Secretaries of State.

A survey published by the Atlantic Council in February found that 56 percent of Americans were in favor of the U.S. government changing its policy toward Cuba while 63 percent of citizens of Florida were in favor of change. The poll of 1,024 people was taken Jan. 7-22 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

(Adds visit to Cuba by head of U.S. Chamber of Commerce in fourth paragraph.)
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