Cuba offers olive branch ahead of Obama visit but slams embargo

Thu Mar 17, 2016 7:14pm EDT
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By Frank Jack Daniel

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba made a rare gesture of reciprocity to the United States on Thursday, three days before a historic visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, but the olive branch was wrapped in spiky rhetoric against decades-old economic sanctions.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Cuba would remove a 10 percent tax on cash dollars in response to Washington's decision this week to relax stiff currency restrictions - but only after testing the new freedom to trade in greenbacks.

"In the coming days we will try to make transfers in dollars with banking entities in third countries and in the United States to verify such transactions can be done," Rodriguez told a news conference.

U.S. banks can now process dollar transactions for Cuba as long as neither buyer nor seller are U.S. entities, the latest dent to a U.S. sanctions regime dating back to 1960.

Obama's critics say he has conceded too much without concessions on rights or multi-party democracy in the Communist country.

Rodriguez said Obama could offer much more without going to Congress, which must approve any end to the embargo imposed three years after Fidel Castro's rebels overthrew a pro-American government in 1959.

"If you want to empower the Cuban people, lift the blockade," Rodriguez said.

He repeated that sanctions should end unilaterally, a view held even by Obama's most ardent fans on the island.   Continued...

U.S. 100 dollar notes are seen at a bank in this picture illustration in Seoul September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/Files