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Group of Prominent Americans Urges Easing Cuba Sanctions

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A group of 44 former high-ranking U.S. officials, business executives and academics is asking President Barack Obama to loosen the five-decade embargo on Cuba.

In an open letter released Monday, the signatories ask Obama to take several actions, including legalizing travel to Cuba by experts who can train Cuban entrepreneurs in law, real estate and financial services, and easing currency sanctions to support independent economic activity.

The letter said reducing restrictions would help give "greater freedom to private organizations and individuals to directly and indirectly serve as catalysts for meaningful change in Cuba."  

It said there is a "window of opportunity" created by reforms underway in Cuba to reduce state control in some economic areas.

Supporters of tough sanctions against Cuba quickly rejected the proposals.

The Reuters new agency reports the director of the influential U.S.-Cuba Democracy group, Mauricio Claver-Carone, said history has proven Cuban leaders only ease economic measures when they are "forced to, not as a good-will measure."

The letter follows a February public opinion poll in which a majority of Americans said they favor loosening the five-decade punitive policy of Cuba sanctions.

The letter was signed by former National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, retired Admiral James Stavridis, and several former senior State Department officials and prominent Cuban Americans. It urges the White House to hold "serious discussions with Cuban counterparts" on issues such as national security, migration, drugs and the environment.

Any talks with Cuba, the letter said, should be used as "leverage" to help secure the release of jailed U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year jail sentence in Cuba for trying to set up illegal Internet connections there.

In 2009, Obama allowed Cuban-Americans unlimited travel to Cuba to visit relatives. In 2011, he allowed U.S. citizens to participate in tourism dedicated to contact with ordinary Cubans.

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