Obama: Cuba Must Reform Before US Eases Position

Posted September 28th, 2011 at 7:20 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama says he will always be prepared to change U.S. policy toward Cuba, but has not seen the steps from Havana that would justify lifting the longstanding U.S. embargo.

President Obama made the comment Wednesday during an online roundtable discussion aimed at the Hispanic community. The president said he does not want to be stuck in what he called a “Cold War mentality,” and that the United States has sought to improve ties by changing laws regarding remittances and family travel to the communist-run island. Mr. Obama also said that before he would act, he wants to see action from Cuba on releasing political prisoners and providing people with basic human rights.

Cuba has said it has no political prisoners, only “mercenaries,” who Havana claims were working with the United States to undermine Cuban communism. The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, only interest sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassy in each other's capitals.

Separately, the online discussion covered topics such as the president's record on immigration as well as his new job creation proposal.

The hour-long forum, streamed live in English and dubbed in Spanish on the White House website Wednesday, is part of a push by the Obama administration to re-energize the support of groups that backed the president during the last election.

Mr. Obama told listeners he is trying enforce what he called the “inadequate” U.S. immigration laws in a “just and humane way.” He said his administration is doing this in part by focusing its deportation efforts on violent criminals and not students and law-abiding workers.

The president also responded to criticism that his administration has sharply increased the number of deportations, saying the figures seem high because there is better enforcement at the border. Mr. Obama said many of the deportations include people caught and sent back while trying to cross the border, not people who have been living and working in the U.S.

The president said he continues to advocate a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration laws that would include strong border security, going after companies that hire and exploit undocumented workers, and creating a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. He blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking efforts to change the laws.

President Obama also used the discussion to continue campaigning for his $447 billion jobs bill, saying it would create employment for construction workers — including many Hispanics — laid off after the housing bubble burst. He said the bill's education provisions will help train young Latinos to get good jobs when they enter the workforce.

The discussion featured questions posed by readers of several websites, including Yahoo Espanol, MSN Latino and AOL Latino and Huffington Post Latino Voices.

Mr. Obama has in recent months been trying to maintain or win back support from the nation's 50 million Hispanics, whose votes he will need to win re-election in 2012. Some recent surveys have shown a drop in his approval rating among the group.

The discussion marked the second time this week that Mr. Obama has addressed questions from an online audience. On Monday, the president answered questions submitted on the social networking site, LinkedIn, as part of a three-day, five-city campaign tour.