Notables urge Obama to boost support for Cuba's civil society

Washington, May 19 (EFE).- Dozens of former senior officials, businessmen and intellectuals on Monday in an open letter asked President Barack Obama to implement executive measures to expand "the changes already under way" in U.S. relations with Cuba.

The missive, which has the support of the Cuba Study Group and the Council of the Americas, acknowledges the advances made in Washington to open up travel for Cuban-American families and increase remittances, but it urges that additional steps be taken at a time in which, it says, public opinion favors closer relations.

The United States "is finding itself increasingly isolated internationally in its Cuba policy," the letter says.

"In the current political climate little can be done legislatively, but the Obama Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to usher in significant progress using its executive authority at a time when public opinion on Cuba policy has shifted toward greater engagement with the Cuban people while continuing to pressure the Cuban government on human rights," the missive continues.

The letter's signatories suggest that general travel permission be expanded to include exchanges among professional organizations, including those specializing in law, real estate, financial and loan services and any other area oriented toward supporting "independent economic activity."

Those sending the letter also request that travel authorization be extended to non-governmental organizations and academic institutions and that they be allowed to open accounts in Cuban banks with funds to support educational programs on the island.

The proposals also include having the Obama administration begin a "serious" dialogue with its Cuban counterpart on humanitarian issues - including the release of U.S. government contractor Alan Gross - and others such as national security, immigration and drug interdiction.

Among the signatories of the letter are John Negroponte, who was Director of National Intelligence under President George W. Bush; former Supreme NATO Commander and U.S. Southern Command chief Adm. James Stavridis; and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Obama Cabinet veterans Ken Salazar and Hilda Solis, two former heads of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana and prominent members of the Cuban-American community also put their names to the letter.