In a few days, “the dumbest policy on the face of the Earth” - as Colin Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson called the U.S. Cuba policy - is bound to become even dumber.
Come May 20, President Bush will fly to Miami to share with an audience of ultraconservative Cuban-Americans a series of new measures supposed to “hasten” the demise of the Fidel Castro regime.
Among them are increasing anti-Castro propaganda, giving greater support to “dissidents” on the island and - listen to this - initiating clandestine operations to keep money from relatives from falling into the government’s hands.
Yes, believe it or not, right when the country is confronting the outrage of allies and enemies over the prisoner abuse scandal, and the Iraq war is becoming increasingly bloody and difficult, President Bush, his “liberator” image badly shaken, is breathlessly talking about regime change in Cuba. His timing seems to be a little off.
The Bush administration, said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) after the new measures were revealed, has an “absurd and increasingly bizarre obsession with Cuba.”
And even though the President said that “this strategy…promote[s] human rights,” certainly increasing the level of hardship for the Cuban people and forbidding Cuban-Americans from visiting family and their country of birth does not seem a logical way to promote their human rights.
For one, visits by Cuban-Americans to relatives in Cuba were cut from once every year to once every three years and, in what amounts to a redefinition of the concept of family, only visits to parents, spouses, children and siblings qualify. Close relatives such as aunts and cousins cannot be visited, and helping them became a crime.
Visitors can spend only $50 a day on food and lodging instead of $164 as previously. Treating family in Cuba to a nice meal or a new pair of shoes has also become a crime.
The whole thing is such a transparent ploy to pander to Cuban-American voters in Florida that even a hard-liner like Rep. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) accused Bush of “playing election-year politics with the lives of the Cuban people.”
But harsh as these measures are, there are others even more dangerous - they seem designed to provoke a confrontation with Cuba.
One of them is the decision to use U.S. military planes to try to defeat Cuban jamming of the U.S. government broadcasts. They would fly, supposedly, outside Cuba’s territorial waters.
“Most of the plan seems to me like more of the same failed 40-year-old policy - tightening the embargo, etc. But using war planes is different,” said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.).
And he added: “What would happen if they begin to fly - as it could happen, knowing this administration - over the island? This could be a way of provoking a response from Havana in order to have an excuse to attack Cuba.”
After all is said and done, though, no one should bet on this strategy, which will undoubtedly make life harsher for the people of Cuba, benefitting Bush’s chances in Florida. Do not forget that the majority of Cuban-Americans have family on the island.
Dialogue, engagement, trade, people-to-people contacts. That’s the smart and humane way to go.
At a time of profound moral crisis in Washington, playing election-year politics with the lives of the Cuban people is not only the dumbest policy on the face of the Earth, but a pretty cynical one, too.