Belafonte calls for better US-Cuba relations

HAVANA (AP) - September 18, 2009 "The policy toward Cuba - yes, I like a lot of people am disappointed," the 82-year-old singer known as the King of Calypso said in a brief interview with The Associated Press. "I think Obama opened up large expectations when he hit on the theme of change, without being specific as to what he meant by change."

Belafonte, whose activism dates back to the U.S. civil rights movement, said Obama has been weighed down by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global economic crisis and health care reform.

"We're waiting to see what does change really mean," he said. "But I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that the best is yet to come."

Obama has eased travel and financial restrictions on Americans with family members in Cuba, but on Monday reaffirmed the 47-year trade embargo on the island. Some hoped the president would not sign the one-year extension to make a dramatic statement that it was time for a new debate on relations with Cuba.

Belafonte and "Lethal Weapon" actor Danny Glover were in Havana to inaugurate a new center that promotes Caribbean cinema.

Belafonte's international views made headlines in 2006, when he called then-President George W. Bush "the greatest terrorist in the world" during a televised discussion with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington.

International stars have been frequent visitors to Havana in recent years, and they rarely fail to make headlines.

Actor-director Sean Penn conducted a rare interview with President Raul Castro in 2008. In July, Benicio del Toro, the star of a 4½-hour biopic on Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, came to Havana to accept a Cuban government award.

Bill Murray, James Caan and Robert Duval came to the island at the same time to do professional research.

Belafonte said he planned to attend Sunday's controversial mega-concert by Colombian rocker Juanes and others. Cuban-Americans in South Florida have criticized the concert, and Juanes has received death threats.

"I'm absolutely delighted that the young artist from Colombia wanted this and took the game this far in spite of all the threats," Belafonte said. "He stood in his own space of courage and wouldn't be intimidated."

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