- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

HAVANA | Fidel Castro said Tuesday the Obama administration's softening of sanctions is “positive although minimal,” and criticized it for leaving in place the embargo that bars most trade and travel between the two countries.

The White House announced Monday that Americans now will be able to make unlimited visits and transfers of money to relatives in Cuba. Under Bush administration rules, Cuban Americans were eligible to travel here only every three years and could send up to $300 to relatives every three months.

Monday's action eliminated those limits in the hope that less dependence on their government will lead Cubans to demand progress on political freedoms.

Many in Cuba saw the changes as a humanitarian gesture.

“You can imagine what it is like to have a marriage by telephone,” Berta Maria Mayor said Tuesday as she awaited the charter plane carrying her husband back to Cuba for the first time in three years. “I'm in love with someone I barely get to see,” the 45-year-old added.

Mrs. Mayor said she hoped her husband could visit several times a year, although family finances are tight after his layoff from a Florida shirt factory job three months ago.

Mr. Castro responded to the measures in an online column Monday night, writing that the U.S. had announced the repeal of “several hateful restrictions” but had stopped short of real change.

“Of the blockade, which is the cruelest of measures, not a word was uttered,” the 82-year-old former president wrote.

Mr. Castro noted that several U.S. senators favor lifting trade restrictions, and he urged Mr. Obama to seize the opportunity.

He released a second column Tuesday, saying the changes were “positive, although minimal.”

Mr. Castro also said Cuba would like to hear “some self-criticism” by the U.S. for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion 48 years ago and a guarantee that it won't happen again in the hemisphere.

While analysts say the U.S. policy change could usher in a new era of openness between the two countries, few Cubans think it will mean the end of the embargo, which has choked off nearly all U.S. trade with the island for 47 years and counting.

About 1.5 million Americans have relatives in Cuba, which came under communist rule after Mr. Castro seized control in 1959.

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