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Obama: Cuba policy to be based on 'libertad'

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  • NEW: Sen. Obama says Cuba policy will be based on liberty for Cuban people
  • NEW: Democratic front-runner accuses Sen. McCain of distorting position
  • Obama calls for looser restrictions on travel, fund transfers to Cuba
  • McCain argues for continuation of hard line policy against communist regime
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama told Florida's Cuban-American community Friday that his Cuba policy would be based on "libertad" and freedom for the island nation's people.

"My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: 'libertad,' " he said, using the Spanish word for liberty at an event celebrating Cuban Independence Day in Miami, Florida.

"The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba's political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair," Obama said. "That is my commitment.

"I won't stand for this injustice; you will not stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba. That will be my commitment as president of the United States of America," he said. Video Watch Obama call for freedom in Cuba »

Obama also said the policy for Cuba and the rest of Latin America would be guided by "the simple principle that what's good for the people of the Americas is good for the United States."

"After eight years of the failed policies of the past, we need new leadership for the future," he said. "After decades of pressing for top-down reform, we need an agenda that advances democracy, security and opportunity from the bottom up."

Obama called for looser restrictions on travel to Cuba so Cuban-Americans can visit family members relatives as well as allowing larger money transfers to the island, two positions that are popular within the Cuban-American community.

Obama, however, may lose votes among Cuban-Americans if they think he is willing to talk with Raśl Castro, the president of Cuba who recently took over leadership of the island nation from his brother, Fidel Castro.

Speaking in Miami on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, blasted Obama for changing his positions on normalization with Cuba and for wanting to "sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raśl Castro."

"These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators: There is no need to undertake fundamental reforms; they can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy," McCain said. "I believe we should give hope to the Cuban people, not to the Castro regime. Video Watch McCain blast Obama's position on Cuba »

"My administration will press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections. The embargo must stay in place until these basic elements of democratic society are met," McCain said.

But Obama said McCain had misrepresented his position.

"John McCain's been going around the country talking about how much I want to meet with Raśl Castro, as if I'm looking for a social gathering; I'm going to invite him over and have some tea. That's not what I said, [and] John McCain knows it," he said.

Obama also faulted McCain for pursuing what he called the failed Cuba polices of President Bush.

"Now, I know what the easy thing is to do for American politicians. Every four years, they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba. That's what John McCain did the other day," Obama said. "He joined the parade of politicians who make the same empty promises year after year, decade after decade.

"Instead of offering a strategy for change, he chose to distort my position and embrace George Bush's and continue a policy that's done nothing to advance freedom for the Cuban people. That's the political posture that John McCain has chosen, and all it shows is that you can't take his so-called straight talk seriously."

Republicans have been able to count on the support of southern Florida's Cuban American community by maintaining a no-compromise stance against Cuba's Communist regime.

And with a 70 percent turnout rate, Cuban-Americans have been a powerful force in Florida and thus, because of Florida's role as a swing state, national politics. Video Watch how Obama is wooing Cuban Americans »

Younger Cuban-Americans, however, are beginning to question their community's alliance with the GOP.

"In reality, all they give to Cuban-Americans is lip service, and I think Cuban-Americans of my generation, Cuban-Americans of previous generations, are tired of the lip service," said Giancarlo Sopo, who is backing Obama.

But despite Democratic efforts to reach out to Cuban Americans, "the reality is, there is no change," says Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican who has represented his South Florida district for eight terms.

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Obama, Diaz-Balart said, may even help Republicans unite Cuban-Americans behind the GOP banner once again.

"This community is steadfast. It's solid. It understands the value of freedom," Diaz-Balart said.

All About CubaJohn McCainBarack ObamaFlorida

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