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Posted March 27, 2004 by publisher in US Embargo

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Mary Sanchez | [url=http://www.HispanicBusiness.com]http://www.HispanicBusiness.com[/url]

The madness that is U.S. foreign policy on Cuba continues to intensify.

To say Cuba is a foreign country is geographically correct. But in many ways the moniker “foreign” hardly fits anymore. “Buena Vista Social Club,” Arturo Sandoval, Cohibas and the late Celia Cruz are all recognizable names for many Americans - at least those who appreciate some of the finer aspects of Cuban culture.

Cuba, after all, is only 90 miles off Florida shores. The country is America’s neighbor, the former home of many Cubans now living in the States. Yet U.S. policy toward Cuba is outdated, ineffective and void of respect for our human links to the country.

Sanctions meant to pressure Fidel Castro out of power began more than 40 years ago. Enough time has passed. It is safe to say: Sanctions are ineffective. Instead of trying another tactic, the decision has been to simply ratchet up a policy that never worked.

A year ago the Bush administration stopped the people-to-people exchanges that allowed academics, students, artists and others to travel legally to Cuba. Long-held licenses to travel legally - issued by the U.S. Treasury Department - have been allowed to expire. Few renewals are occurring. Earlier this year, American biannual talks with Cuba were suspended.

At the same time, a new presidential commission is charged with seeking ways to bring democracy to Cuba, which to Cubans sounds like inciting revolution. And Cuban diplomats have been kicked out of the United States.

Also, a new interpretation of the sanctions declared that it was illegal for American publishers and scholars to edit Cuban research documents and other works. So changing a comma can bring a charge of trading with the enemy. This is not an idle threat. Fines are being enforced for those caught breaking the travel ban.

Previously, there was no process to punish people who broke the travel ban. All people had to do was ask for an administrative hearing. With no judges assigned, that would in effect make the charge go away. Now, there are three judges.

Among those caught in the change: Bob Augelli, of Lawrence, Kan.

Augelli was originally fined $37,000 for four unauthorized trips in 1998 and 1999. Attorneys, one born in Cuba, negotiated the fine down to $2,500. The fine is too heavy a price for someone who simply loves Latin music and appreciates the lyrical rhythm of Cuban life.

But Augelli is not the only poster boy for this political lunacy. Among the estimated 2,000 people recently fined are a woman who distributed Bibles and a grandmother who wanted to bicycle in Cuba.

The Bush administration is not fearful of Augelli cavorting with Castro - or the grandmother or the Bible-carrier. Bush doesn’t want to lose the financial support of some Cuban constituents. That “some,” however, doesn’t apply to the majority of the Cuban community. Their views have been shifting, as rational views do.

Many, especially first- and second-generation Cuban-Americans, see that Castro is indeed, as the adage holds, “like crabgrass - he never dies.” Younger Cuban-Americans admit our policies on Cuba have not worked.

Yet, if this was an easy situation someone would have figured it out by now. Castro is no saint. He is a dictator.

As the administration increased the pressure, Castro struck back. March 18 was the one-year anniversary of Castro’s arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents. International aid workers are denied access. Little is known about the prisoners’ welfare. Human rights violations would hardly be surprising. For this reason, some say sanctions are appropriate.

But Americans can travel to, and the United States has relations with China, Vietnam and other places where communism and dictators reign. In those instances, the administration upholds the value of allowing foreign people to learn about American ideals through contact with Americans.

Cuba is so close geographically. Yet the view politically is always so clouded.


Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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