Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's decision to allow unlimited travel by Cuban-Americans to visit family members in Cuba is a smart, long-overdue step aimed at steering that country toward democracy in the post-Castro era.

His decision to let Cuban-Americans send cash and goods to relatives in Cuba comes at a time when polls show a large majority of Americans want to end the trade and travel bans toward the Caribbean nation and re-establish diplomatic ties.

With an ailing Fidel Castro in retirement and his brother Raul tenuously in power, the time is fast approaching when it wouldn't take much to topple the Communist regime and move poverty-stricken Cubans into the arms of a capitalist economy.

Obama's policy strategists envision waves of prosperous Cuban-Americans flying into Havana for lengthy stays, bringing their cell phones, BlackBerrys, iPods, cosmetics, fashions and other material possessions, along with their stories of entrepreneurial dreams come true in the Land of Opportunity.

Those dreams still live within the hearts of the Cuban people who have been imprisoned in a society hungry for economic and political freedoms and the consumer goods that Castro's brutal dictatorship has long denied them.

Obama is eager to open up the country to trade and commercial and business relations, but wants Cuba to move toward democratic reforms first. And there are growing signs that Cuba's younger generation is ready to move in that direction.

Americans, too, seem ready to end the half-century-old split between the two countries and the embargo put into place by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

A survey of more than 1,000 Americans reported Friday that nearly three-quarters of them support re-establishing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba. The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, conducted April 3 to April 5, showed that 71 percent of respondents favored restoring ties between our countries. Only 21 percent opposed any change toward Cuba.

When the same question was asked two years ago, 62 percent favored diplomatic relations and 29 percent opposed it.

Still, the issue of normalizing relations remains a fiercely contentious one in Florida, where much of the Cuban-American community strongly opposes ending -- or even easing -- the 1962 trade embargo. A poll by the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies reported last month that 57 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County said the embargo should remain in place or even tightened.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.