Politicians and businessmen sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama Monday, asking him to work with Congress to normalize relations with Cuba. The letter, signed by 78 policy experts, businessmen and former politicians, arrived on the eve of Obama's State of the Union address.
The letter said the White House needs to reflect “21st century realities,” Reuters reported. Obama last month announced pending normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba by the end of the year, a deal brokered in secret following more than a year of negotiations.
The letter said Congress needs to reform its sanctions on Cuba, written in 1996, but stopped short of calling for an end to the 50-year-old embargo against the island nation. The letter is signed by prominent former policymakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum, including Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and Bill Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger. It also lists the names of three former assistant secretaries of state for the Western Hemisphere and a group of prominent Cuban-American leaders.
"We write to commend you on the historic actions you are taking to update America’s policy toward Cuba and Cuban citizens," they said. It followed a similar letter sent in May 2014, asking for Obama to open trade relations with the Republic of Cuba.
Cuba will host a U.S. delegation for historic talks later this week meant to help reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana. “Engagement will advance our national interests and our values by empowering the Cuban people’s capacity to work toward a more democratic and prosperous country -- conditions that are very much in the U.S. interests,” the letter says.
The U.S. announced Friday travel and commerce sanctions on Cuba would be eased. It is still illegal for Americans to own property in Cuba or to travel there for tourism.
The letter also encourages the Obama administration to "continue to call on Havana to respect the human rights of the Cuban people," including at an upcoming Summit of the Americas in April where both Cuba and the U.S. will attend together for the first time.