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Obama says U.S. needs to update policies on Cuba

U.S. President Barack Obama talks about the importance of growing the U.S. economy while at the Port of New Orleans in Louisiana, November 8
U.S. President Barack Obama talks about the importance of growing the U.S. economy while at the Port of New Orleans in Louisiana, November 8

By Mark Felsenthal

MIAMI (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday that it may be time for the United States to revise its policies toward Cuba, against which it has had an embargo for more than half a century.

"We have to be creative and we have to be thoughtful and we have to continue to update our policies," he said at a fundraising event in the Miami area.

"Keep in mind that when Castro came to power I was just born, so the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet, Google and world travel doesn't make sense," he added, referring to Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban revolution.

Incremental changes in U.S. Cuba policy have allowed greater communication with people on the island and the transfer of remittances, Obama said.

"But I think we all understand that ultimately, freedom in Cuba will come because extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today," he told a small audience at the home of Jorge Mas, a telecommunications equipment executive. "But the United States can help."

A younger generation of U.S. politicians and Americans of Cuban ancestry are likely more open to finding "new mechanisms" to bring about change on the island, he said.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba is controversial internationally and the United Nations in October voted for the 22nd time to condemn it. Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said the fact that the embargo has been in place for more than half a century is "barbaric."

Obama said before taking office that he wanted to recast long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations, but his efforts have been a disappointment to the Cuban government, which hoped he would do more to dismantle the embargo.

U.S. diplomats have said that while the United States welcomes some of the recent changes in Cuba, the country still has one of the most restrictive economic systems in the world.

Even so, the two countries have made small advances toward one another. Diplomats sat down in September to discuss re-establishing direct mail between the United States and Cuba, which has been suspended since 1963.

Obama restarted the talks, along with discussions of immigration issues, in 2009. However the negotiations broke off after Cuba arrested U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years for his role in setting up an underground Internet network.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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