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Posted May 21, 2003 by publisher in US Embargo

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By Mary C. Murray | NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT

HAVANA, May 20 — The Bush administration failed Tuesday to apply new sanctions against the Cuban government, dodging pressure from Miami’s radical Cuban-American community to punish Fidel Castro for a recent crackdown.

MANY HAD expected the White House to announce new restrictions Tuesday, timed to coincide with the anniversary of Cuba’s independence from Spain. Instead, President Bush recorded a 40-second radio greeting that expressed little more than sympathy for the plight of ordinary Cubans:

“My hope is for the Cuban people to soon enjoy the same freedoms and rights as we do. Dictatorship has no place in the Americas. May God bless the Cuban people, who are struggling for freedom.”

The message went out at 9:30 a.m. over the airwaves of the U.S. government’s Radio Marti, when most people were either at work or in school. There’s no way of knowing just how many Cubans heard the president’s message.

Despite Havana’s systematic jamming of the 24-hour broadcasts, since its start in 1985 Radio Marti has represented an alternative source of information to Cuba’s state-controlled media.

Expectations that Bush would make a new policy statement on Cuba seemed logical after senior White House officials spoke about a strong response to Castro’s arrests in mid-March of 75 political dissidents. 

Options ranged from placing new limits on the amount of money Cuban Americans could send to relatives on the island to stopping the 30 weekly direct charter flights that bring exiles home on humanitarian visits. Current U.S. law permits Cuban Americans to make one humanitarian visit and send $1,200 to family members a year.

Both measures would harm U.S. financial interests and Cuban families, says Nelson Valdes, a Cuba specialist and academic at the University of New Mexico.

“Ending flights to Cuba will hurt, first of all, the Miami airport and the Miami charter companies precisely at the moment when the airlines are having problems,” Valdes said.

Family remittances, hard to regulate, are an important source of income for many Cuban households. Cuban economists estimate that travelers hand-carry more than half of the $1 billion sent home annually circumventing U.S. legal limits that are more easily enforced when the funds are sent through Western Union or other agencies.

Some Castro foes also reportedly urged the Bush administration to suspend all export licenses to U.S. companies selling agricultural products to Cuba. That would anger food giants such as Cargill and Archer Midland as well as small food producers for whom every new market counts. 
To date, the island has made purchases exceeding $187 million since late 2001, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors business traffic between the two countries.

Just Monday, Cuba bought $4 million worth of corn and wheat from an Iowa farmer cooperative.

Although the Bush administration showed restraint Tuesday, last week the State Department expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for engaging in “unacceptable activities” a diplomatic phrase for espionage.

Florentino Batista, the former deputy consul at the Cuban Mission in Washington, denied being a spy and charged the deportations were “politically motivated.” Some analysts agree with Batista, seeing the expulsions as a slap on the wrist for Castro’s crackdown on the U.S.-supported dissident movement.

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