Bush allows Americans to send cellphones to relatives in Cuba

Posted in Latin America | 22-May-08 | Source: Los Angeles Times

US President George W. Bush arrives to speak during an event marking a day of Solidarity with the Cuban people in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Bush on Wednesday announced a change in US policy to allow Americans to send cellphones to relatives in Cuba after an easing of restrictions on phone ownership there.
The easing of U.S. trade restrictions is intended to put pressure on the island nation to improve its people's lives.

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Wednesday announced a loosening of U.S. restrictions that will allow Cuban Americans to send cellphones to family members in Cuba.

Speaking in the White House East Room in a celebration marking the first "Day of Solidarity With the Cuban People," Bush said it was up to the Cuban government to decide whether it would allow its citizens to receive the phones.

Administration officials argued that the relaxed restrictions on trade with the Cuban people did not represent a weakening of the long embargo on trade with Cuba.

The president's step, which Dan Fisk, a National Security Council specialist responsible for Latin American issues, said would take effect in several weeks, follows Cuban announcements that citizens there would be allowed to own cellphones and computers and that DVDs and toasters would be available in coming years.

The president argued for political change in the country as well, saying Cubans should be allowed to "speak freely in public" and "stop worrying about whether they have bread every day."

"If the Cuban regime is serious about improving the lives of the Cuban people," he said, it should take steps to "make the changes meaningful."

He also said it was the "height of hypocrisy to claim credit" for allowing the Cubans to have items "they can't afford."