September 16, 2009 / 6:09 PM / 10 years ago

Cuba chides Obama over U.S. trade embargo

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba chided U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday for not doing more to end the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against the island despite his public promise to seek improved ties.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez speaks during a news conference in Havana September 16, 2009. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Obama, though “well-intentioned,” was missing a “historic opportunity” to transform relations that turned hostile soon after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.

“Americans voted for him because he promised to make changes. Where is the change in the blockade of Cuba? There is no change,” Rodriguez told reporters.

The White House this week confirmed that Obama had signed an order extending for another year the law used to impose the trade embargo, which has been in place against the communist-ruled island since 1962.

The one-year extensions have been renewed by U.S. presidents since the 1970s, but embargo opponents had hoped Obama, who said earlier this year he wanted to “recast” U.S.-Cuba relations, would let it lapse.

In one slight relaxation of the embargo, Obama has lifted restrictions on travel and cash transfers to Cuba by Cuban Americans, and he has moved to reopen dialogue with the Cuban government that predecessor George W. Bush shut down.

But Obama also has said the embargo will be maintained until Cuba improves its human rights and frees political detainees.

Rodriguez acknowledged that under Obama “there is less aggression” from the United States toward Cuba, but he said he should do more to dismantle the embargo by using his executive powers.

Complete elimination of the embargo would require an act of the U.S. Congress.

In one sign of greater contact between the two ideological foes, Cuban and U.S. officials are set to hold talks in Havana on Thursday on the possible resumption of long-suspended direct postal service between the two nations.

CUBA SAYS EMBARGO COST IT $223 BILLION

Rodriguez put the blame for Cuba’s ongoing economic woes squarely on the embargo, saying it was the “primary obstacle to development” and had cost the country $223 billion over the years.

He said the embargo prevents Cuba from getting much-needed medicines, medical equipment and other humanitarian goods. Critics of the Cuban government say mismanagement and the centralized socialist system are behind the island’s problems.

Rodriguez said Cuba will present to the United Nations General Assembly on October 28 what has become an annual resolution condemning the embargo.

Last year, 185 nations voted for the anti-embargo resolution and only three, including the United States, voted against.

Despite his complaints about the U.S. sanctions, Rodriguez insisted they would not prevent Cuba from moving forward.

“The Cuban revolution is solid and unbeatable, with or without the blockade,” he said.

Additional reporting by Esteban Israel; writing by Jeff Franks; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Kieran Murray

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