MIAMI May 19 The White House should expand
licensed travel for all Americans to Cuba and increase support
for civil society on the communist-ruled island, according to an
open letter to President Barack Obama that was signed by an
unprecedented group of 44 former top U.S. government officials
and advocates of policy reform and released on Monday.
The letter, which lists a series of policy recommendations,
was signed by John Negroponte, the former Director of National
Intelligence under president George W Bush, retired Admiral
James Stavridis, who stepped down last year as Supreme Allied
Commander of NATO, as well as several former senior State
Department officials and a dozen prominent Cuban American
advocates of greater engagement with Cuba.
The letter, which also called on the White House to engage
in "serious discussions" with the Cuban government on security
and humanitarian issues, is the latest sign of increased
pressure on the Obama administration to soften the U.S. Cold
War-era policy on Cuba. It comes in the wake of a February poll
that found a strong majority of Americans favor further
loosening the five-decades old punitive policy of Cuba
While the letter stops short of calling for legislation to
end the 52-year-old economic embargo, it lists measures that the
signers say are within the executive authority of the president
and do not require congressional approval.
The recommendations are designed to take advantage of what
the letter calls a "window of opportunity" created by reforms
underway in Cuba to reduce state control in some economic areas
and allow the creation of small, privately run businesses.
Reducing U.S. restrictions on travel and financial activity
in Cuba would help "deepen the changes already underway by
giving greater freedom to private organizations and individuals
to directly and indirectly serve as catalysts for meaningful
change in Cuba," the letter says.
Among the recommendations is the expansion of travel
licenses to include exchanges by professional organizations,
including law, real estate, financial services, hospitality,
"and any area defined as supporting independent economic
Groups organizing travel to Cuba should be allowed to open
Cuban bank accounts to support their educational programs, and
visitors to the island should be allowed to use U.S.-issued
pre-paid cards and other financial services, including travel
insurance, the letter says.
It also recommends that anyone should be allowed to offer
services and send money and goods to Cuba to support independent
business activity there.
Among those goods and services it includes the sale of
telecommunications hardware in Cuba, including cell towers,
satellite dishes, and handsets.
Additionally, the letter urges the White House to
"prioritize" the holding of "serious discussions with Cuban
counterparts" on a range of issues from national security,
migration, drugs and the environment, among others.
Any talks with the Cuban government, the letter said, should
be used as "leverage" to help secure the release of jailed U.S.
government contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year jail
sentence in Cuba for trying to set up illegal internet
connections in Cuba.
(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)