From an address by Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela, October 9:
Cuba is another case in point. Since taking office, President Obama has made clear his commitment to supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future. The President also laid out his openness to direct engagement when he said, and I quote, "we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people."
During the first 20 months of the Obama administration, we have begun to make progress on the vision that the President has outlined. First, we have taken measures to increase contact between separated families and to promote the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. We believe that the reunification of the divided Cuban family is a positive step toward building a better future for Cuba. In addition, we have engaged Cuban authorities on key bilateral matters like migration and direct mail service. In the wake of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, the United States worked with Cuba to expedite the arrival of critical supplies to victims and survivors of the worst natural disaster in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.
We have also increased artistic and cultural exchanges between our countries, consistent with our long-standing support for freedom of expression. The "Peace Without Borders" concert in Havana organized by Juanes last year and performances in the United States by noted Cuban artists such as Carlos Varela demonstrate in concrete terms our desire to promote greater communication between the people of the United States and Cuba. In 2009, there was an 80 percent increase in travel licenses issued to U.S. persons under the public performances, athletic, and other competitions and exhibitions category; a 25% increase in religious licenses; and a 16% increase in licenses issued for academic travel to Cuba. Additionally, non-immigrant visa issuances for Cuban citizens have more than doubled in the last year, including visas for more Cubans to travel to the United States for cultural academic and professional exchange. This engagement has not generated overnight change, but it has advanced U.S. interests, and we are committed to continuously evaluating and refining our policies. We welcome the ongoing release of political prisoners, and note that Cuba is undergoing profound economic changes that we hope will improve the lives of the Cuban people.