Clinton: Lift embargo on Cuba

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she has urged President Obama to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba, arguing the policy has hurt citizens of both nations.

"Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in giving him a foil to blame for Cuba's economic woes," Clinton writes in an excerpt from her new book, Hard Choices, obtained by The Associated Press.

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Clinton said she told Obama the embargo “wasn't achieving its goals” and “was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

“I thought we should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive,” Clinton writes.

But President Obama ultimately decided to maintain the economic restrictions, she said.

Clinton’s opposition to the embargo could put her at risk in the electorally crucial state of Florida, were she to seek the Democratic nomination for president. With a significant population of Cuban immigrants who fled the Castro regime, the embargo carries strong symbolic weight with the exile community there.

But more than a third of the Cuban-Americans living in Miami arrived in the past 20 years, and polls show that, even among the exile community, support for the embargo is fading.

Still, Cuban relations remain politically potent. President Obama was widely denounced by Republicans, when he shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at the funeral for South African leader Nelson Mandela in December.

Republicans and some Cuban-American Democrats have also criticized Obama for loosening restrictions on travel to the communist nation, allowing Cuban-Americans to make unlimited trips and send unlimited amounts of money to family members.

In 2011, the White House said it would allow students seeking academic credit and churches making religious trips to visit the island. Additionally, the administration expanded the number of U.S. airports permitted to offer charter service to the island and allowed so-called “purposeful travel” via a licensing process intended to weed out pleasure trips.

And at a fundraiser in Miami last year, Obama told donors the U.S. needed to be “creative” and “thoughtful” as it continued to update its policies toward Cuba.

“Keep in mind that when [Fidel] Castro came to power, I was just born,” Obama said. “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 and Google and world travel doesn't make sense.”

Critics have said the administration’s softening stance has emboldened the Castro regime and complicated efforts on behalf of Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development worker imprisoned on the island for attempting to help Cuba’s Jewish community establish Internet access.

In her book, Clinton said she believes some in the Castro government are using Gross "as an opportunity to put the brakes on any possible rapprochement with the United States and the domestic reforms that would require."

"If so, it is a double tragedy, consigning millions of Cubans to a kind of continued imprisonment as well,” Clinton said.