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Posted July 04, 2004 by I-taoist in US Embargo

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New Bush move to restrict Cuban-American’s travel and remittance may backfire.

Throwing Caution to the Wind
US Measures Against Cuba
Bound to Annoy Everyone

Pastor Valle-Garay
Professor, York University

US President George W. Bush seems to enjoy doing things in a big way. He also has a knack for ruffling the feathers of world opinion at the most inopportune times. Not quite out of the Iraq quagmire, last week the White House released the Cuba Commission report. The 500 page document, prepared by President Bush’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, aims to undermine and topple the government of President Fidel Castro. Bush authorized US $45 million dollars in the next two years to implement it.

The report stipulates that Cuban Americans will be limited on the remittances they send to relatives in the island, on the frequency of their visits to Cuba, and on the amount of funds allowed to spend while visiting them. This measure alone would cost the Cuban economy approximately US $1 billion dollars in lost revenue. US visas to academics and researchers will be restricted while visas to Cuban diplomats will be denied.

The White House will pressure third countries to break all ties with Cuba and to refrain from doing business or engaging in tourism with Havana, thus effectively destabilizing another important source of revenue for the Cuban economy. While no country was mentioned by name, it is obvious that this measure is particularly aimed at Canada, one of the nations that maintain strong and profitable diplomatic, economic and tourist trade with the island. Theoretically, should Bush implement his ill-thought sanctions, the move would interfere with trade between Cuba and the U.S. closest allies -Canada, Spain, Italy, Great Britain. Not very smart.

Another losing proposition in the Commission’s report is the authorization of US$18 million dollars in funding for Radio and TV Marti. Under the control of the Cuban Americans, the scandalous, corruption-ridden station beaming anti-Castro propaganda to Cuba, has been a cause of in-fighting among the Miami mafia who use it for their personal enrichment. In addition, the Commission report also creates a Coordinator of Democratic Transition, supposedly to pave the way for Castro’s replacement once he leaves power. Not unlike the unpopular, de facto junta handpicked by Washington to rule Iraq by the end of June.

“This is a strategy that says we are not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom. We are working for the day of freedom in Cuba,” explained Bush in one of those classical Bushism that no one has been able to figure out, when he and Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the report at the White House. Not very smart. The report has annoyed everyone.

As soon as Bush approved the report, the Democratic party denounced it as another meaningless political ploy in Bush’s presidential campaign. The Cuban Government condemned it as “blatant interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation,” and Castro’s opposition, both in Miami and in Cuba, attacked it on the grounds that it would make life more difficult for them and for the people of Cuba.

According to Andrew Oppenheimer, a Miami Herald political analyst and a foe of the Cuban regime, the reaction in Latin America and in Europe has been one of dismay at the “new push to oust Castro.” Instead of weakening Castro’s hold on Cuba, the report strengthens it, claims Oswaldo Pay, an opposition leader in Cuba. This Friday tens of thousands of Cubans agreed with Pays observations. They marched before the US Interests Section in Havana to voice their protest against Washington’s efforts to subvert the Cuban revolution.

Similar reactions have occurred in Latin America. They reflect a turn around in the Hemisphere’s traditional ties with Washington. As nations got rid of military dictatorships and moved to democratic rule in the last 20 years, they comfortably settled for either liberal or left-of-centre governments. They also re-established diplomatic, trade, cultural, educational and tourist ties with Cuba, which Washington had forbidden during the trade embargo it has maintained against the island for the last 45 years.

Simultaneously Latin American states, traditionally viewed by the United States as their own “backyard,” started to keep Washington at arms’ length. Latin Americans began to oppose free trade as exploitative of Latin American workers, and increasingly voiced their dislike and distrust of Bush. While campaigning for the Presidency, Bush had foolishly promised to make Latin America the focus of his foreign policy. It never happened. After the events of September 11, it became clear that the Spanish speaking nations barely registered in Bush’s list of priorities.

Consequently when Bush went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, most Latin American countries opposed Washington’s decision. Only five of the 21 nations in the Hemisphere volunteered token contingents of soldiers to Iraq. Most of these troops have returned and will not serve a second tour of duty in Iraq.

Bush does not fare much better among the 9 million Hispanic voters in the United States. Hispanics, who usually vote democratic, also feel that Bush let them down in the last Presidential elections. Bushs promises of labour and immigration reforms never materialized. His new Cuban policy is not likely to find support among these voters.

All indications are that Bush is in serious political trouble. The Iraq war has been a divisive issue for Bush in the United States and abroad. While it is generally agreed that when the United States goes to war Americans rally behind their President, it is also clear that the disclosure of brutal torture on Iraqi prisoners may cause irreparable damage to Bushs image abroad and to his presidential aspirations at home. The Cuban Commission report will not make life any easier for the occupant of the White House at home or abroad.

In Latin America his international policies have been mostly ignored or rejected. His position vis-a-vis Cuba will not make him any friends. Latin Americans rally to offer support to a sister nation is under threat regardless of their political disagreements. In Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America there have been large demonstrations in support of Cuba and in opposition of the Cuban Commission report. For Latin America the latest White House offering on Cuba is dej vu: a replay of humiliating US interventions for the last 150 years. Mexican President Vicente Fox illustrates the point. In spite of tense diplomatic relations between Cuba and Mexico, Fox made it clear last Friday that “we reject any US meddling” in Cuban affairs.

It appears that Bush is oblivious to alienating friends and foes alike. The war has earned him the contempt of the Iraqi people and has distanced him from his allies in Europe and in the Middle East. His commission against Cubas Castro will certainly alienate him from Latin Americans and from the Hispanic population in the US. In the process it is also bound to ruffle a few wealthy feathers among his corporate supporters who had long signaled that they are ready and willing to do business with Cuba.

In Florida, Bushs decision to put the screws to Castro may be a turning point for the worse in the November presidential election. The powerful Cuban American population in the Sunshine State usually votes Republican. This time around Cuban Americans are not happy with Bush. Just as thousands of them started to reestablish normal links with friends and relatives in the island, Bush cut them off. Badly-timed move.

Bush often feels that when he is on a roll he may throw caution to the wind. He may be right. Some times. Not this time. His Cuban decision has put him on a downhill roll with the wind at his back. And he has managed to annoy everyone.

Pastor Valle-Garay, Professor

Department of Language, Literatures and Linguistics

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