Casting around for more dragons to slay, the Bush administration is taking an increasingly hard look at Cuba. Its expulsion this week of 14 Cuban diplomats on what appear to be trumped-up charges may be but a foretaste of things to come. Next Tuesday, George Bush is expected to mark Cuba’s independence day with a speech tightening existing trade and travel sanctions and imposing new ones. These may include further curbs on consular arrangements that facilitate the resettlement of up to 20,000 Cubans in the US each year; and the prospective closure of the US interests section in the Swiss embassy in Havana.
Complaining that immigrant visas are already being cut back, Cuba claims such action would amount to a calculated US attempt to foster social unrest on the island and could lead to a repeat of the mass “rafter” exoduses of the mid-90s. This, warns Cuba’s head of mission in Washington, Dagoberto Rodriguez, may then be used as a pretext for US intervention. He says Cuba has already been told, officially, that a new wave of illegal immigration would be considered “an act of war”.
Cuba might ask itself why so many of its citizens continue to want to leave. The recent mass jailing of political dissidents, and the execution of three ferry hijackers, have been deplored not only by the US government but also by Jimmy Carter and many other friends of Cuba in the US, Europe and Latin America who, unlike Republican hawks, do not see enforced regime change as the only way forward. Fidel Castro’s refusal to observe international human rights norms is indeed insupportable. But Congressional Democrats and others should also be questioning Mr Bush’s motives in deliberately stirring up trouble as the US approaches an election year.
As in 2000, Florida will be a key swing state. And anti-Castro Cubans, comprising 7% of Floridian voters, could be crucial in fixing a second term. For Mr Bush, it seems, policy and party politics are close neighbours.