BY LESLEY CLARK | Miami Herald
President Bush defended his administration’s travel ban to Cuba on Monday, telling a Cuban American who suggested that visits to the island would topple Fidel Castro that ``trade with the country enables a tyrant to stay in power.’‘
The remarks came as Bush campaigned in California, urging Congress to revive a stalled immigration plan that would provide a means to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
The man who posed the question told Bush that he emigrated from Cuba as a 9-year-old, but wants to go home to ``see my front door that was bullet-riddled when they were fighting Batista’s guys.’‘
‘‘I don’t understand, how can we trade with Vietnam—we lost over 50,000 Americans there—how can we trade with communist China, we can’t even go to Cuba?’’ said the man, who was not identified by a White House transcript of the event at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine. ``And I think if the borders were opened up with Cuba and American enterprise got to go down there, I think Castro would fall like a rock off a cliff.’‘
CHANGED IN 2004
The controversial travel ban—tightened in 2004 after complaints from Cuban Americans in Miami that the administration was not tough enough on Castro—cut family visits to Cuba by Cuban Americans from once a year to once every three years. Congressional critics have long tried to relax the travel ban and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry at the time criticized the move as harmful to families, saying he would encourage ‘‘principled travel’’ to the island.
Bush defended the ban, saying it was keeping money out of Castro’s hands.
‘‘Fidel Castro has got the capacity to arbitrage your dollars to the advantage of his administration,’’ Bush said. ``You pay in dollars, he pays in Cuban money and collects the difference. So you go to a hotel in Havana, the money goes to the hotel, which has kind of got a deal with the government in order to be there in the first place, and the workers get paid in a currency that’s worthless compared to the U.S. dollar. And he makes the balance.
‘‘And so, in all due respect, I have taken the position that trade with the country enables a tyrant to stay in power, as opposed to the opposite,’’ Bush said.
``Honest disagreement of opinion—I fully recognize—but that’s why I made the decision I made.’‘
Jake Colvin, director of USA*Engage, a coalition of groups opposed to unilateral sanctions, noted the remarks came days after Bush talked trade with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
‘‘A lot of U.S. money goes to bad people in a lot of regimes,’’ Colvin said. ``But despite what the president says, a U.S. presence there would be more a factor prompting democracy and human rights.’‘
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