Obama restates his policy on Cuba and U.S. embargo

U.S. President Barack Obama says he will always be prepared to change U.S. policy toward Cuba, but has not seen the steps from Havana that would justify lifting the longstanding U.S. embargo.

President Obama made the comment Wednesday during an online roundtable discussion aimed at the Hispanic community. The president said he does not want to be stuck in what he called a “Cold War mentality,” and that the United States has sought to improve ties by changing laws regarding remittances and family travel to the Communist-run island. Obama also said that before he would act, he wants to see action from Cuba on releasing political prisoners and providing people with basic human rights.

Cuba has said it has no political prisoners, only mercenaries, who Havana claims were working with the United States to undermine Cuban communism. The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, only interest sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassy in each other’s capitals.

Cuba’s foreign minster criticized the U.S. embargo when he spoke earlier this week at the United Nations.

The discussion featured questions posed by readers of several Web sites, including Yahoo Espanol, MSN Latino and AOL Latino and Huffington Post Latino Voices.

Obama has in recent months been trying to maintain or win back support from the nation’s 50 million Hispanics, whose votes he will need to win re-election in 2012. Some recent surveys have shown a drop in his approval rating among the group.

The discussion marked the second time this week that Obama has addressed questions from an online audience. On Monday, the president answered questions submitted on the social networking site, LinkedIn, as part of a three-day, five-city campaign tour.

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