Babalu! Cuba’s Travel and Internet Access Could Increase

5198cuba-posters.thumbnail.jpgI so freaking want to go to Cuba. And now it looks like all of us who want to check out the santeria and seafood may have a chance: A group of Congress members led by William Delahunt of Massachusetts introduced a bipartisan bill calling for an end to the 46-year-old ban on travel to Cuba. 

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act introduced Feb. 4 and referred to the Foreign Relations Committee states that:

the President may not regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents.

 Obama has said that he would lift restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting the island and on how much money they could send to relatives there. During the his campaign he made the point that the current embargo has not helped bring democracy to Cuba.

Cuba is a popular tourist destination for European and Canadians, and tourism a primary source of income for the island.  Americans do visit, but to do so legally must obtain a license from the Department of Treasury. In 2007 about 45,200 Americans — including Cuban Americans — legally obtained a license or approval from the U.S. government to enter Cuba by air. 

Many Cuban Americans wish embargo to remain in place until reforms are made–or the Castros are gone. But progress is being made, at least on the consumer and information front.

By next year, Venezuela will have completed a fiber optic network which will allow Cubans access to the internet. Currently the Web is accessible via satellite and limited mostly to government officials, academics, and tourists in some hotels.

In May 2008 President Raul Castro lifted the ban on the private ownership of computers after just weeks earlier permitting citizens to own cell phones, DVD players, motorbikes and electric pressure cookers.

Yesterday Cuban communications minister Ramiro Valdes, speaking at a computer exposition in Havana, said that "conceptually" the government has no problem with making the Internet widely available, but that the 

The restrictions are technological and economical.

However, there may be some ideological issues to unlimited access to the intertoobs.  Last week vice minister Boris Moreno told Cuba’s state run newspaper:

As happens in all the countries of the world, we’re not going to permit access to sites that stimulate terrorism and encourage subversion of the established order.

But for decades Cubans have found a way around state-ordered restrictions using a thriving black market, so at some point you could end up playing Worlds of Warcraft from your couch with someone in Havana.

Cuba “Ready” for Obama to Open Relations, Pleased About GITMO Closing

caridad-de-cobre.thumbnail.jpgCuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque praised President Obama for signing executive orders to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center saying:

The Guantanamo naval base remains against the will and desire of the people and the government of Cuba.

Speaking Friday at a press conference in Guatemala City, where he was attending a meeting of foreign ministers from the Non-Aligned Movement, Roque called on Obama to carry out "a profound revision" of US policy toward Cuba. However, he wants the US to begin the process:

We are ready to sit down at a table and talk in a civilized manner, but it is not up to Cuba to take the first step…Cuba aspires to having normal and respectful relations with the United States.

  In an interview last year with Sean Penn, Cuba’s president Raul Castro told the actor that said he would like to meet President-elect Barack Obama on "neutral ground," suggesting Gitmo as a possible location:

We must meet and begin to solve our problems, and at the end of the meeting, we could give the president a gift … we could send him home with the American flag that waves over Guantanamo Bay.