President Clinton on Friday eased restrictions on travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans, academics, clergy and students and agreed to allow U.S. news organizations to open bureaus there.
Clinton said the steps would encourage the island's "peaceful transition to a free and open society."At the same time, however, Clinton said the 33-year-old trade embargo with the communist regime of Fidel Castro will remain in place.
"In our own hemisphere, only one country, Cuba, continues to resist the trend toward democracy," Clinton said in a speech to Freedom House, a decades-old pro-democracy lobby.
Clinton's executive order would allow U.S. news organizations to open bureaus in Havana. Officials suggested the move would enable Americans to learn more about the shortcomings of life under communism.
It would also allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and would allow limited travel to the island by academics, artists and clergy members.
And it would allow an exchange of American and Cuban students.
"We will tighten the enforcement of our embargo to keep the pressure for reform on, but we will promote democracy and the free flow of ideas more actively," Clinton said.
His order would both allow American news organizations to open bureaus in Cuba and allow Cuban reporters to live and work in the United States.
There were no assurances from Havana that the Cuban government would agree to the proposal. U.S. officials said there had been no communication with Havana about the proposal.
At present, several West European news organizations have bureaus in Havana, but the U.S. media have had no such presence there since the late 1960s.
The United States allows American reporters to travel to Cuba, and Cuban authorities often grant visas, but usually only for brief stays. U.S. officials said a permanent media presence in Havana would be to Cuba's disadvantage because Americans would learn more about rights abuses and the country's economic problems.
Officials said too many people living in the United States have been making unauthorized travel to Cuba, often going there via Mexico or other Caribbean countries.
Clinton's plan calls for the stationing of agents with camera equipment at airports with flights to and from Cuba. A particular target is travelers who try to enter Cuba with large sums of money.
Clinton's announcement came two days after Pope John Paul II reiterated his opposition to the U.S. embargo against Cuba. "People should not be made to suffer," the pontiff said.
White House officials, however, said the U.S. sanctions did not come up in a 30-minute meeting Wednesday between Clinton and the pope, who, according to some reports, may visit Cuba in February.
When asked about exchanges of reporters, Cuban officials have been noncommital except to say no such arrangement is acceptable if the U.S. government insists on allowing Radio Marti or TV Marti to open a bureau.
The two U.S. government-sponsored operations provide news and commentary tailored to Cuban audiences. Both are heavily jammed, especially TV Marti.
Cuban exiles in Miami are planning to protest Fidel Castro's visit to the United Nations with a more limited flotilla than those that twice brought tragedy to participants. Protesters say about 10 boats will travel as close to Cuba's 12-mile territorial limit as possible on Oct. 21 and broadcast television and radio programming denouncing the Cuban leader. Cuba has indicated it may sink any boat and shoot down any plane that crosses into its territory. "I don't have time to waste with these guys," Castro spokesman Jose Ponce said Thursday in Havana.