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Posted May 10, 2004 by publisher in US Embargo

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Judging from what I heard in telephone interviews with key Cuban opposition leaders on the island, I wonder whether President Bush’s newly released 500-page Cuba Commission report will not do more harm than good for the cause of hastening the end of Cuba’s dictatorship.

By announcing some new restrictions on travel and remittances to the island in what critics see as an election-time move to win Cuban exile votes, the Bush administration is shifting world attention to the wrong issue. It’s directing the headlines toward the United States versus Cuba dispute, instead of toward the dictatorship versus democracy clash between Fidel Castro’s regime and the island’s peaceful opposition.

Oswaldo Pay, the leader of the Project Varela movement, told me from a relative’s house in Havana that the new U.S. measures will ‘‘complicate’’ the internal opposition’s struggle. The movement has gathered more than 30,000 signatures on the island demanding a referendum within the island’s communist constitution on whether Cubans should be allowed to have basic freedoms.

Pay did not want to get into details of the new U.S. measures, which also include $18 million for Radio and TV Mart broadcasts to the island and some financial aid for dissidents’ families. But he said that “this new package of [U.S.] measures once again shifts the center of attention toward a confrontation between the Cuban government and the United States. Now there will be an avalanche of news in the government media about this new confrontation stemming from the latest U.S. measures. It’s Cuba versus the United States, all over again.

‘‘My position is that the only thing we expect from the United States and the rest of the world is political and moral support,’’ said Pay. “Those who led this [Cuba Commission report] looked into their own needs, rather than those of Cuba and the peaceful opposition movement.’‘

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told me in a separate telephone interview from Havana that “it’s hard [for the United States] to deal with a totalitarian government: If you normalize relations, it takes advantage of it, and if you impose sanctions, it takes advantage as well. Sometimes, the best thing is to do nothing.’‘

Vladimiro Roca, another leading dissident, was less critical. Given that the Cuban regime is the only employer on the island and doesn’t allow opponents to get jobs, ‘‘any gesture from any government in support of democracy in Cuba is welcome,’’ he said.

The problem is, I wonder whether the new U.S. measures will have enough of an impact to offset the public relations harm they will cause.

The estimated $1 billion in U.S remittances to Cuba, which are already the island’s biggest source of income, might be reduced somewhat, but probably not much. The newly restricted money will continue flowing through Canada or Mexico, just like U.S. tourists facing travel restrictions will make a detour through Jamaica or the Bahamas.

Simultaneously, Castro will be able to step up his David versus Goliath spiel and divert attention from the fact that he is leading one of the world’s last police states, where people’s basic rights such as choosing one’s profession, reading a foreign newspaper, using the Internet or even buying a car are subject to a government-issued certificate of good political behavior.

Meantime, much to his delight, headlines around the world are talking about the ‘‘new U.S. push to oust Castro.’’ Even Mexican President Vicente Fox, in the middle of a diplomatic rift with Cuba, came out Friday to make it clear that ‘‘we reject any [U.S.] meddling’’ in Cuban affairs.

Bush administration officials say that many Cuban dissidents cannot openly support the new U.S. measures, because doing so would land them in jail.

History shows that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, pro-democracy activists in Russia and Eastern Europe said that the U.S.-financed Radio Free Europe radio broadcasts and foreign-supplied fax machines were their lifeline for information and moral support.

Maybe so. But I tend to agree with Cuba’s leading pro-democracy activists that if the Bush administration were more concerned about Cuba’s freedom than about Florida votes, it would have focused its energies on working silently to get international political support for Cuba’s opposition.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on May 11, 2004 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I’m guessing there are two reasons for this report and its ridiculous recommendations.

    1. To win over hardline Cuban exiles.

    2. To provoke Fidel Castro into making a political mistake.

    Odd though how the report wants to restrict Americans so Cubans can be free?

    Odd indeed!

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