MIAMI (AP) -- Barack
Obama's desire to ease U.S.-Cuba travel restrictions stands in contrast to
the stances of Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and
most of the Republican contenders.
The question is
whether his position will help him in Florida.
up a small but growing number of Democrats in this swing state, but most
are still either Republicans or independents, meaning they will have
little say in the party's Jan. 29 primary.
also remain conflicted about the Bush administration's 2004 restrictions
that slashed the amount of money they can send and cut the number of
visits they can make to families on the island. They want to be able to
travel home and help their needy relatives, but they also want to see
ailing Fidel Castro's communist government fall.
administration says the restrictions, on top of the government's
45-year-old economic embargo against Cuba, promote such change. But Obama
"The primary means we
have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban
people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways,"
the Illinois senator wrote in an op-ed piece published in Tuesday's Miami
Clinton, the New York
senator and Democratic front-runner, issued a statement reiterating her
support for the current policy toward Cuba, adding, "Until it is clear
what type of policies might come with a new government, we cannot talk
about changes in the U.S. policies toward Cuba."
She has recently
sought to portray Obama as naive on foreign policy.
Democratic candidates, Sen. Joe Biden also supports the status quo. Former
Sen. John Edwards staked out the middle ground Tuesday, calling for an end
to the family travel restrictions but saying he would not immediately
change the remittance limits.
New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson has also called for an end to the travel and money restrictions
for Cuban-Americans, while Sen. Chris Dodd has said he would lift all
travel restrictions. U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich supports scrapping the
criticized Obama's proposal.
"We're in a very
critical moment where many of us are hoping that we will see a transition
as opposed to a transfer of power. Frankly I think his comments are
ill-timed," said Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, chairman of the Republican
National Committee. "It shows that he either didn't think it through very
well or simply hasn't had enough experience on these tough foreign policy
Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the leading GOP
presidential candidates, both said easing sanctions would only help the
"We must not weaken
our policy on Cuba until the Castro regime is dismantled, all political
prisoners are freed and Cuba transitions to free and fair elections,"
Still, Andy Gomez, a
senior fellow at the University of Miami's conservative Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said Obama's position is in line with
what many academics have long tried to tell Washington.
"We have to lift the
travel ban, not only to allow families to reunite but to allow us to
provide information to the Cuban people that will help them form their
decisions as to what kind of government they would like for the future,"
Another factor: The
Cuban-Americans most likely to support lifting the travel restrictions are
often recent immigrants who are not yet U.S. citizens and cannot vote.
That could suggest
Obama was pointing to the general election, hoping a bold foreign policy
statement would demonstrate his command in the international arena not
only to Democrats but also to independents and Republicans - Cuban or not.
Leonard Verdugo, 39,
is among the conflicted independents Obama will have to win over. The
Havana native initially said he had no desire to return to the country he
fled a decade ago and opposed Obama's position.
A minute later he
conceded that he sends money home to his mother and sister there, adding
reluctantly, "I guess I agree that if your immediate family is there, you