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Posted April 30, 2003 by publisher in US Embargo

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South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board

Frustration in Washington over the deplorable actions of Cuba’s government is high, but the Bush administration should not retreat from constructive policies out of sheer aggravation. Instead, it should let other voices speak up—at least for the moment.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday the administration is reviewing a wide range of policy measures to sanction Cuba, which in recent weeks has sentenced 75 dissidents to outrageous prison terms and executed three men accused of hijacking a ferryboat. The cruel measures, which have dealt a serious blow to the island’s opposition movement, have elicited widespread international scorn.

Unfortunately, some of the actions the administration is examining may do more harm than good. Specifically, the U.S. government may prohibit flights to Cuba or ban so-called “remittances” to the island. Over the years, studies of the Cuban economy suggest that the travel and remittances—money sent via wire transfers or other means—inject about $1 billion a year into the depressed Cuban economy. Canceling an immigration agreement is another potential reprisal also on the table.

These measures, however, might only make things worse. Contact between Cubans on the island and others on the outside provides positive support for much-needed change and reform. In fact, the travel and the remittances are one reason the dissident movement flourished in recent years.

Curtailing that support now would be an unwise retreat. Key dissident leaders, including Osvaldo Pay and Elizardo Sanchez, have vowed to continue pressing for fundamental freedoms. As long as they are willing to continue the battle, the international community should stand by them.

At the same time, Cuba’s economy is sputtering. Foreign investment has dwindled and tourism, the government’s main source of foreign currency, is in a slump. That’s why it’s smart for U.S. policy-makers to let the influential business community, particularly the agricultural industry, do the protesting for now.

In the past few years, a number of businesses and trade groups lobbied heavily for a roll-back of the embargo and travel sanctions. In fact, Cuba has purchased roughly $200 million worth of American products in the past two years.

But the terrible wave of repression in Cuba has stymied those efforts. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told Fidel Castro that much during a visit to the island last week. Other groups are making forceful statements. The entire board of directors of the Cuba Policy Foundation, a Washington group that has lobbied for an end to the embargo, has resigned in protest over the arrests and the executions of the alleged hijackers.

What better messengers to tell Cuba that its actions are indefensible than the very people and groups who have sought to build bridges to an increasingly isolated regime?

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