Events in Iraq have overshadowed a new, 500-page Bush Administration plan to bring about regime change closer to home: in Cuba.
It’s a remarkable plan that casts aside a tool that Democratic and Republican Presidents have long used to open closed societies: a free flow of people, commerce, information, and ideas.
America fought to enshrine this concept in the Helsinki accords. Many believe it helped win the Cold War. President Bush embraces it in his policies toward China and Vietnam today, despite those nations’ human rights abuses.
But not toward Cuba — and especially not in an election year. President Bush wants more pressure, not people-to-people exchanges.
Considering that the U.S. embargo is already tight, it’s hard to increase pressure on Cuba. So the Administration has decided to curtail contacts between Cuban Americans and their families in Cuba because these contacts earn some hard currency for the Cuban government.
Effective July 1, Cuban Americans may visit relatives in Cuba only once every three years. They may no longer send money or packages to aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces, nor may they ever travel to Cuba to visit them, because these relations no longer meet the federal definition of “immediate” family. If they send packages, they can include food, medicine, radios and batteries — but soap, clothing, seeds, and fishing poles are now prohibited.
These are extraordinary steps — the first American economic sanctions designed to harm the welfare of families. The Administration wants to end the “pacifying effect” that comes to Cuban society, it says, when family charity from abroad helps Cubans meet basic needs.
The Administration’s plan includes other sanctions, funds for Cuba’s dissidents and political activists outside Cuba, and a long, detailed blueprint for U.S. aid for Cuba’s democratic transition. The money would flow after political change has occurred and properties expropriated four decades ago are largely returned.
In Cuba, remarkably, this ambitious pro-democracy plan was panned by the independent Cubans whom the Administration sees as agents of democratic change.
Cuba’s Catholic bishops said the “privations and burdens” caused by the Bush sanctions “affect and threaten the present as well as the future of our nation.”
The leading dissident Oswaldo Paya, organizer of the Varela Project, a pro-reform petition drive, said it is not “acceptable for any force outside Cuba to try to design the Cuban transition process.” Another dissident likened the new State Department post of Cuba “transition coordinator” to a “Paul Bremer the second.”
In Miami, some hard-line leaders applauded the Bush plan based on their belief that Cubans must sacrifice to achieve freedom. But the Cuban American National Foundation questioned the morality of keeping families separated. And a June 30 headline in the hard-line Diario las Americas captured the local sentiment about loved ones in Cuba: “Exiles Fear for Their Families.”
The Bush plan has a political impact. Unlike candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, Sen. John Kerry is not trying to out-do his Republican opponent when it comes to Cuba sanctions. He argues that the new Bush measures “harm Cuban Americans while doing nothing to hasten the end of the Castro regime.” Florida Democrats are working to register newly angered Cuban Americans to vote.
It’s too early to tell whether President Bush’s actions will gain or lose votes for him in November. But it’s clear that where Cuba is concerned, his Administration has left family values behind and forgotten a beloved Republican’s principle for dealing with communist regimes. “We must be careful in reacting to actions by the Soviet Government,” President Reagan said in 1984, “not to take out our indignations on those not responsible.”
Philip Peters, a State Department official during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, is vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
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