Obama can bend Cuba embargo to buoy change, groups say

, Bloomberg

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President Barack Obama should break free of the embargo on Cuba and assert his authority to promote a free-market overhaul taking place on the communist island.

The recommendation is contained in concurrent reports published Wednesday by the Cuba Study Group and the Council of the Americas, two groups seeking to end a decades-old deadlock on U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Among steps Obama can take without violating sanctions passed by Congress are opening U.S. markets, as well as authorizing the sale of American goods and services, to the estimated 400,000 private entrepreneurs that have arisen since Cuban President Raul Castro started cutting state payrolls in 2011. The reports also recommends allowing U.S. credit card and insurance companies to provide basic financial services to licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba.

"We've been sitting on the sidelines with our hands tied by an antiquated law that's being too strictly interpreted," said Chris Sabatini, an author of the report for the New York- based Council of the Americas, where he is policy director. "There's more Obama can do to be a catalyst for meaningful economic change."

Obama in 2009 allowed companies for the first time to provide communications services to the Caribbean island of 11 million and lifted a travel ban for Cuban-Americans. The loosening of restrictions, while heralded by the White House as a way to undermine the Castro government's control of information, was seen as insufficient by potential investors including Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.

Now, in a second term, and with private business expanding in Cuba, Obama has a freer hand to do more, said Sabatini.

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