http://havanajournal.com/cuban_americans/entry/cuban_american_national_foundation_plans_trip_to_cuba_with_commentary/

HavanaJournal.com: Cuban Americans

Cuban American National Foundation plans trip to Cuba - with commentary

Posted March 16, 2005 by publisher in Cuban Americans.
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BY OSCAR CORRAL | Miami Herald

For the first time, the Cuban American National Foundation is encouraging its directors to travel to Cuba—to participate in a meeting of dissidents, diplomats and journalists in Havana in May.

CANF is urging other Cuban exile organizations to do the same in a show of solidarity with Cuba’s budding dissident movement. But its request was immediately rejected by CANF’s archrival, the more conservative Cuban Liberty Council.

CANF’s declaration came in response to an invitation from dissidents planning the Assembly to Promote Civil Society on May 20.

‘‘There will be a presence of directors and members of the foundation there,’’ CANF Chairman Jorge Mas Santos said Thursday. “We think it’s an opportune time.’’

The dissidents’ invitation, dated Feb. 25, is from Felix Antonio Bonne Carcasses, Rene de Jesús Gomez Manzano and Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, three well-known pro-democracy activists on the island.

‘‘This event will mark the turning point for the work that all the member entities in our coalition—more than 350—are doing to help organize the development of a civil society in our country,’’ the dissidents wrote.

In the past, CANF directors who wanted to travel to Cuba had to resign from the foundation on principle and for security reasons. Thursday’s announcement is the latest shift at a foundation that drove an especially hard line under founder Jorge Mas Canosa, but has more recently come under fire from mostly Republican critics for softening its approach toward Castro.

The assembly is set to occur in a period of communist retrenchment in Cuba and has not been sanctioned by the Cuban government. Some skeptics believe Cuban President Fidel Castro will never allow it to take place. But already, the assembly has received broad international support and attention, and stopping it abruptly would further tarnish Cuba’s human rights record.

MIGHT BE REJECTED

Even if Cuban Americans receive a license from the U.S. government to travel to the meeting, the Cuban government can deny them entry.

However, Mas Santos said CANF directors will find ways to get to the island without challenging current travel restrictions and without breaking U.S. law.

For example, current law allows U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba to visit family only once every three years. Most foundation members have not been to Cuba in the past three years, so they can probably get a license to travel there rather easily. Several CANF directors and executive committee members live in other countries, which would make it easier for them to go.

CANF has a license from the U.S. Treasury Department to send humanitarian aid to the island and may be able to use that license to send representatives to the meeting for ‘‘humanitarian’’ reasons.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he respects exiles who want to travel to Cuba legally to support the May 20 assembly, as well those who don’t want to go out of principle.

A State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the U.S. government encouraged people to legally travel to Cuba to support the conference despite Bush administration initiatives to curtail travel to the island.

The official said that U.S. citizens who apply for a travel license under the context of ‘‘support for the Cuban people’’ have a good chance of getting a visa.

`A RIGHT’

‘‘Cubans in Cuba and Cubans in America have a right to encourage democratic change in Cuba,’’ the official said.

“Anybody who is undertaking these activities, from my perspective, is doing God’s work. From a political perspective, does this make sense? Absolutely.’‘

At least one other exile group, Democracy Movement, said it plans to send representatives to the meeting. President Ramon Saul Sánchez declined to give details.

. The Cuban Liberty Council said that it rejects the idea of traveling to Cuba for any reason while Castro remains in power. CLC Executive Director Luis Zuñiga said that the council is giving ‘‘economic support’’ for the assembly but declined to provide details.

Member Comments

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On March 16, 2005, publisher wrote:

Would the last hypocrite supporting the Embargo please turn off the lights after they leave the US for Cuba?

CANF: “We are always right and we are smart enough to travel to Cuba but all other Americans are wrong and too stupid to be allowed the freedom to travel to Cuba.”

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On March 16, 2005, waldo wrote:

CANF: “Do as we say, not as we do” ?