By REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART

The riveting story of Jose Contreras’ family’s daring escape from Cuba has captivated the attention of millions of people. Their story has helped put a magnifying glass onto Cuba and our policies toward a hostile terrorist regime just 90 miles off our shore.

Last year, President Bush established the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, tasking the group with identifying ways in which the U.S. could best help accelerate a democratic transition. In response to the commission’s recommendations, the President acted decisively to strengthen sanctions against the dictatorship, such as taking steps that would enable the Cuban people to view TV Marti, which Fidel Castro has been jamming, and significantly increasing support for Cuba’s growing pro-democracy movement.

Some people do not understand the embargo of Cuba. Its purpose is to keep American hard currency out of the hands of a Communist thug by restricting most trade and travel. Since the military controls all tourism-related business ventures in Cuba, lifting the U.S. travel embargo would put at least $5 billion to $6 billion directly into Castro’s hands every year. That influx of cash would allow Castro to return to his practice of exporting his troops to wage terror against the U.S., as he did in Grenada.

Last year, Castro’s tyrannical regime intensified its crackdown on dissidents, executing three young men whose only crime was to seek freedom in the United States. To lift sanctions would not only reward Castro’s injustices against the Cuban people but also it would further strengthen this dying dictatorship and prevent Cuba from much needed democratic change.

According to U.S. law, the Cuban regime has the power to lift the sanctions itself if it would 1) release all political prisoners; 2) allow freedom of press, labor unions and political parties, and 3) hold free, supervised elections. Castro chooses to oppress instead.

Bush understands how important the travel embargo is, and his measures are correctly focused on accelerating a democratic transition in Cuba, while denying the anti-American, terrorist regime financial resources it desperately seeks to further repress the Cuban people and spread terrorism around the world.

Diaz-Balart is a Republican congressman from Miami