MITCH STACY | Associated Press
Lifting trade and travel restrictions on Cuba is the only way to bring about real change in the island nation, panelists said Friday during a national summit largely critical of long-standing U.S. policies.
But some speakers at the third National Summit on Cuba showed there is still support for using the trade embargo, now more than four decades old, and recently tightened travel restrictions to squeeze the island’s economy and push leader Fidel Castro out of power. They were supported by a knot of protesters near the event’s venue at the University of Tampa.
Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former chief of the U.S. interests section in Havana, said the containment policy has made less and less sense as the years have passed, especially after the breakup of the Soviet Union, with which Castro had aligned himself.
Today, he said, it is accomplishing little to bring about change in Cuba and causes hardships for Cuban-Americans who are having an increasingly difficult time getting there to visit their families. There is widespread support within Cuba for changing the policies, he said.
“For goodness sake, the Cold War is over,” Smith said. “Let’s listen to the religious leaders and leading dissidents in Cuba, and listen to our own good sense.”
U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona and William D. Delahunt of Massachusetts participated by phone from Washington, saying there is support in Congress for changing Cuba policy, and they will keep trying regardless of who wins the presidential election.
“It’s crazy,” said Delahunt, a Democrat who serves on the House International Relations Committee. “It’s the dumbest policy on the face of the earth.”
The House voted last month to nullify the Bush administration’s new rules restricting family travel to Cuba and to remove barriers to agriculture sales and student exchanges.
But as with past efforts by Congress to ease the economic and social sanctions, the House moves are expected to make little headway against a Bush administration determined not to make life easier for Castro.
However, Flake, a Republican, said, “We’ll be back with it in January.”
During a campaign swing in August through Miami, home to the largest concentration of Cuban exiles in the United States, President Bush reiterated his strong support of the sanctions.
“The people of Cuba should be free from the tyrant. And I believe that enforcing the embargo is a necessary part of that strategy,” he said.
The Bush administration tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba in June, an action that Cuban authorities called an election-year ploy to placate anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Florida.
Democratic candidate John Kerry, like Bush, supports the U.S. embargo but has said he wants a review of American policy toward the island, including the travel ban.
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba and advocate of keeping the sanctions in place, noted that “the embargo is not what it used to be,” with many U.S. businesses now allowed to do business with Cuba.
Castro is broke and in debt, Calzon said, and it’s possible American taxpayers could end up subsidizing him if the U.S. opens full trade with Cuba again.
Sanctions should also remain, he said, because Cuba continues to be a “rogue state” that supports terrorism and represses its people.
The summit, which was sponsored by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba and other organizations that support loosening sanctions, was protested by about 30 people holding signs with such slogans as “Stop Supporting Castro,” and “Every dollar of trade with Castro is a dollar that supports repressions.”
Previous summits have been held in Miami and Washington.