03/19/13 - Reuters - Dissident's visit warms Washington's Cuba Cold War
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A visit to the Congress on Tuesday by Cuba's
best-known dissident may have slightly narrowed one of Washington's
long-standing political gaps - the angry dispute over the U.S. embargo
against the Communist government in Havana.
Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez met on Tuesday with both Democratic and
Republican members of Congress, including some of the staunchest
Cuban-American supporters of the 53-year-old economic embargo against her
In the past, some hard-liners have been reluctant to voice strong support
for Cuban dissidents who want major changes in U.S. policy, including
ending the ban on most trade between the United States and the Caribbean
Sanchez was first invited to Capitol Hill by two Florida Democrats, Senator
Bill Nelson and Representative Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American who promotes
President Barack Obama's easing of restrictions on Cuba and backs expanded
U.S. travel to the island.
But she also met with prominent Cuban-American Republicans who strongly
support the continuation of the tough restrictions, including Florida
Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.
Sanchez says the embargo is an excuse for the Cuban government to blame the
country's economic problems on the United States, rather than its own
policies. But embargo supporters say any easing would provide hundreds of
millions of dollars to prop up the island's government.
'UNITY IN THE CAUSE'
"There has not been a change in attitude or position about dissidents who
advocate for freedom and democracy in Cuba," said Ros-Lehtinen, one of the
top Republicans on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Our goals remain the same and there is unity in the cause. We disagree on
how to reach that goal and it has been that way and will continue."
Cuba is in a period of potential change. President Raul Castro has been
pushing through cautious reforms such as the elimination of travel
restrictions that allowed Sanchez to make her 80-day tour of more than a
The country also lost a major financial sponsor and counterbalance to U.S.
influence in Latin America with the death this month of Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez. Chavez' hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, is
expected to continue the country's support for Cuba if he wins the
presidential election next month.
Castro, 81, who succeeded his ailing older brother Fidel as president in
2008, announced last month that he would step down as president after his
second term ends in 2018.
Sanchez, 37, has been blogging since 2007, attracting an audience of half a
million people for posts about the hardships of life in Cuba. She also uses
Twitter to denounce repression.
She visited Washington after a stop in New York. She is due to visit Miami,
the center of Cuban-American life in the United States and home to her
sister and niece, on April 1.
Protesters who back Cuba's government have heckled Sanchez at several stops
during her tour.
(Editing by Warren Strobel)
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