(Adds reaction from critics and supporters)
By David Adams
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 signed by an unprecedented
group of 44 policy reform advocates and former U.S. officials.
The letter released on Monday was signed by John Negroponte,
the Director of National Intelligence under President George W.
Bush, retired Admiral James Stavridis, who stepped down last
year as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and several former
senior State Department officials and prominent Cuban Americans.
It's the latest sign of increased pressure on the Obama
administration to soften the U.S. Cold War-era policy on Cuba
and follows a February poll that found a strong majority of
Americans favor loosening the five-decades-old punitive policy
of Cuba sanctions.
While stopping short of calling for legislation to end the
economic embargo, it lists measures that are within the
executive authority of the president and do not require
The recommendations seek to take advantage of 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 "by giving greater freedom to private
organizations and individuals to directly and indirectly serve
as catalysts for meaningful change in Cuba," the letter said.
Supporters of maintaining tough sanctions against Cuba were
quick to reject the proposals.
"History has proven that Castro only eases economic measures
when he's forced to, not as a 'good-will' measure," said
Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the influential U.S.-Cuba
By seeking to use executive authority the recommendations
involved "circumventing the rule of law," since the embargo was
passed by Congress, he added.
Signatories say the recommendations were vetted by a New
York law firm, Shearman & Sterling, which advises major
corporations and governments.
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 activity.
It also recommends anyone should be allowed to offer
services and send money and goods to Cuba such as
telecommunications hardware, cell towers, and satellite dishes.
Additionally, the letter urges the White House to hold
"serious discussions with Cuban counterparts" on issues such as
national security, migration, drugs and the environment.
Any talks with Cuba, 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.
"The letter is a very rational, common-sense request," said
Joe Garcia, a Cuban American congressman from Miami. "The
president's policy of allowing more travel and remittances to
Cuba has produced more change in Cuba in the last five years
than the previous 50 years."
(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sofina