Hillary Clinton backs shift in US policy toward Cuba

Washington, Dec 19 (IANS/EFE) Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, widely considered the Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 White House race, said Thursday that she supported President Barack Obama's decision to "change course" in Washington's policy vis-a-vis Cuba.

"Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime's grip on power," Clinton said in a statement.

"As I have said, the best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of the outside world," she added.

She said that the aim of increasing US involvement with Cuba should encourage lasting reforms for the Cuban people.

She also called upon the other nations of the Americas to join Washington in this effort.

In addition, Clinton said that the "principal objective" of the US should be to support "the aspirations of the Cuban people for freedom".

Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro announced Wednesday the beginning of a process to normalise diplomatic relations between the two nations, which were broken in 1961, a move that would include opening embassies in Washington and Havana in the coming months.

The secret talks between the US and Cuba to explore the idea of normalising ties began more than a year ago and were conducted mainly in Canada.

The Vatican also facilitated the contacts, receiving delegations from both countries, and Pope Francis personally involved himself in the matter to push the negotiations forward.

One of the main obstacles to the process, however, as Obama acknowledged, was the imprisonment in Cuba of US subcontractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for subversive activities.

Gross was freed and Wednesday returned to the US after having been imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years, while three convicted Cuban spies who had been serving sentences in the US since 2001 also were released and returned to the island.

The three spies -- Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino and Antonio Guerrero -- were released in exchange for an intelligence officer of Cuban origin working for the US who had spent almost 20 years in prison on the island.

In her memoirs, published last June, Clinton says that when she was secretary of state, a post she occupied from 2009-2013, she recommended to Obama that he ease the economic embargo against Cuba because, in her judgment, it was not "achieving its objectives".

Obama Wednesday asked Congress, which starting in January will be fully controlled by the Republicans, to begin a "serious and honest" debate on the unilateral economic embargo imposed on Cuba in 1961 during the presidency of John F. Kennedy.

--IANS/EFE

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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2014 01:15 AM

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