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The Obama Administration should not ease travel restrictions until Cuba makes real changes, some experts say.

BY CHRONICLE STAFF

As the Obama Administration plans to ease the U.S. travel restrictions for Cuba, some Cuba experts are urging constraint until the Caribbean island undergoes changes. "Nothing should be done unilaterally," says Carlos Gutierrez, a non-resident scholar at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) and U.S. commerce secretary from 2005 until January. "Any changes should be linked to real changes for the Cuban people."

Gutierrez, a former CEO and Chairman of Kellogg’s, was born in Cuba in 1953 and lived there until his family fled the island when Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959.  

TRAVEL LIBERALIZATION

President Barack Obama plans to ease restriction for Cuban-Americans' travel to Cuba, according to widespread media reports citing unnamed Administration officials. Meanwhile, several bills in Congress call for a full lifting of travel restrictions for all Americans.

However, Obama is not expected to lift the trade embargo against Cuba, a policy Gutierrez supports. "The embargo should not be lifted until the conditions [for democracy] are met," he says. "The United States is the only country in the world that is willing to call for real change in Cuba. If the United States gives up its leverage unilaterally, there will be no one standing up for the oppressed Cuban people.”

Raul Castro officially became president of Cuba in February 2008, succeeding his brother Fidel Castro. The Cuban government does not permit free elections, opposition parties or independent media. A majority - 63 percent -- of Cubans want freedom of expression and the ability to choose their leaders, according to a poll in November commissioned by the International Republican Institute. More than 86 percent want the right to own their own property and businesses.

FLAWED IDEOLOGY

"Cuba will be free when those who hold a monopoly over power realize that Marxism is a flawed ideology and put power in the hands of the people of Cuba," Gutierrez says. "This means giving people political freedom, the right to form political parties, the right to elect their public officials, economic freedom, religious freedom, intellectual freedom and ...freedom for all political prisoners. I believe it is highly unlikely that this will happen while any of the Castro brothers are in charge."

Gutierrez joined ICCAS in February. "The Institute is the preeminent institution for Cuban-American and Cuban studies," he says. "It is an opportunity to work with world-class scholars on a topic in which I have had a life-long interest. The depth and sophistication of their work is unparalleled."

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