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Clinton set to ease some restrictions on Cuba


But U.S. stops short of softening trade embargo

March 19, 1998
Web posted at: 5:25 p.m. EDT (1725 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton is expected to announce on Friday the lifting of some restrictions imposed on Cuba after two unarmed planes were shot down north of the island in 1996, killing four Cuban-Americans.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Clinton is expected to announce that Cuban-Americans will be able to send up to $300 every three months to relatives and friends in Cuba.

Direct flights between the United States and Cuba, carrying humanitarian goods and some passengers, will also be allowed, the official said. The flights would be coordinated through the Catholic Church and relief agencies.

However, Clinton will stop short of lifting a ban on tourism by Americans in Cuba, and the senior administration official stressed that the actions don't amount to a softening of the strict U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

"The decision is based on the conclusion that Pope John Paul II's visit (to Cuba) created space for people to act in contravention to (Cuban President Fidel) Castro," the official said. "This is not a reciprocal step or based on expectation that Castro would change."

Amateur video captured smoke from the downed planes  

Administration sources told CNN that Clinton was urged by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to ease the restrictions as a humanitarian measure. Albright discussed the situation in Cuba during a meeting with the pope at the Vatican 12 days ago.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Thursday that Clinton had received a number of recommendations from Albright, "and there will be several things that I think the president will address tomorrow."

But a key Cuban-American leader, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, criticized the move, saying restoring the direct humanitarian flights would be an undeserved reward for the Castro government.

"By lifting the ban, it sends a signal to Castro that he has been absolved in the deaths of those four innocent men," she said. "That's a terrible message. Castro has not behaved any better toward the Cuban people than when the president imposed sanctions."

In February 1996, two planes belonging to a Miami-based group Brothers to the Rescue, which aids Cubans trying to escape the island, were shot down north of Cuba by MiG jets. The four men on board died.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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