Cuba's President Castro Sends Positive Signals to the New Obama Administration

U.S. officials note the change in tone by Raul Castro and his ailing brother, Fidel.

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The Obama administration has taken note of remarks both by Cuban President Raul Castro and by his brother, former President Fidel Castro, expressing, in part, positive sentiments about Barack Obama and the significance of his presidency, according to a senior State Department official. Both Castros, using somewhat different language, have said they view Obama as intelligent and sincere in wanting to change U.S. foreign policy and see his presidency as historic.

The Castros' remarks have come since the U.S. election and have continued occasionally in interviews, comments to the media, and, in the case of Fidel Castro, his frequent articles in the Cuban press. "I think the statements are important. They've registered," said the State Department official.

U.S. policy toward Cuba, including the various restrictions that flow from a 47-year-old economic embargo, will be reviewed by Obama administration agencies. During the campaign, Obama said that he intended to remove restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and that he favored well-prepared "direct diplomacy" with the island's communist government.

Outside analysts are watching closely for moves from either Washington or Havana to lessen tensions and begin a dialogue on some of the disputes dividing them.

The State Department official's comments also offer a sense of how Cuba's modest economic reforms—in agriculture and consumer purchasing—are being perceived in official Washington. "The steps have been very small. They've been very controlled," said the official. "They're looking for ways to signal they're capable of economic change."

On the internal scene in Cuba, the official spoke of a "significant desire, and even pressure, on them [Cuban officials] for social and economic reform." The official added, "The Cuban government has to respond in some fashion."