President Clinton, hoping to establish new lines of communications with Cubans, has decided to permit increased academic exchanges and to relax restrictions that make it tough for non-governmental U.S. groups to operate on the island, a senior Administration official said Thursday.
Clinton will also announce in a speech today that he will allow U.S. news organizations to establish bureaus in Cuba and allow Cuban news organizations to operate in the United States, the official said. "It's our effort to reach around the Cuban government and create direct contacts with the Cuban people," the official said.
Still, the steps seem to go against prevailing opinion on Capitol Hill, where the House voted overwhelmingly late last month to tighten a longstanding U.S. trade embargo and to impose secondary sanctions on countries that help Cuban President Fidel Castro's regime.
"We've gotten mixed reactions in our consultations on the Hill," the official admitted. "There is also a question whether the Cuban government will accept this."
To head off criticism from Cuban American groups that are militantly anti-Castro, Clinton also plans to announce steps to tighten enforcement of the existing trade embargo.
For instance, the official said, U.S. tourists have been traveling to Cuba through Mexico or other Caribbean countries. The official said the Administration plans to dispatch agents to foreign airports serving Cuba to look for Americans, especially those carrying large sums of money.
The embargo requires most U.S. travelers to obtain special licenses to conduct any sort of activity in Cuba. The official said Clinton has decided to grant such licenses to permit most academic exchanges. Human rights, environmental and other non-governmental groups will be allowed to cooperate with Cuban organizations.
There have been no U.S. news bureaus in Cuba since the Castro government ordered them closed in the 1960s. Although the ban was originally imposed by Havana, the U.S. government has refused for years to even allow U.S. news organizations to ask Cuba for permission to reopen.
The senior official said Clinton has decided that reopening U.S. news bureaus would indirectly increase the flow of news about Cuba available to Cubans. Despite government censorship, many Cubans can obtain news, especially radio broadcasts, from the United States. But without U.S. news bureaus on the island, the quantity of news about Cuba is limited.
Clinton plans to permit Cubans living in the United States to make one trip a year to Cuba to visit relatives. This relaxes rules in effect since August, 1994, that have made it difficult for Cuban Americans to travel to the island to visit sick relatives. Officials said the rules are so cumbersome that exiles often do not receive permission for such visits until relatives have recovered or died.