WASHINGTON - The United States announced tighter inspections of US citizens traveling to Cuba and a crackdown on illegal business with the communist island.
“In particular, we’re having 100 percent inspection of flights to Cuba,” Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega told a telephone news conference.
“We’re looking at agencies that do business that benefit the regime that we want to identify and cut off.”
President George W. Bush announced the stricter measures on October 10 as well as the creation of a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, headed by US Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez, who was born in Cuba, to shepherd a democratic transition in Cuba.
Our efforts to enforce restrictions of financial transactions that benefit the regime has been stepped up in a dramatic fashion since the president’s October 10 announcement,” Noriega said.
The commission met for the first time Friday at the White House with Bush’s national security advisor Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) and others.
The group is charged with drafting a report for delivery to Bush by May 1 on what each US government agency could contribute to accelerating and preparing for a transition in Cuba.
Noriega said the commission would make the United States “better prepared to respond to transition.”
He said the United States also wanted to make sure “that there will be no succession to the Castro regime but that there will be a profound and deep political and economic change that will benefit the Cuban people after a 45-year nightmare.”
Ten Cubans feared dead in bid to flee homeland: US
MIAMI, 5 (AFP) - Ten Cubans who tried to leave their country for the United States are feared to have died while crossing the perilous Florida Straits, the US Coast Guard said citing a witness.
A 24-year-old survivor, strapped to two inner tubes, was located Monday floating at sea 15 kilometers off the coast near Miami. He said he left the Cuban province of Matanzas November 27 with another 10 people in a four-meter boat.
The boat was destroyed in rough seas and the man told the Coast Guard he believed he was the only one to survive.
As the body of one person was found at sea Wednesday, the Coast Guard said a tragedy appeared likely.
“We are saddened by the thought that 10 people may have lost their lives in this manner,” said Rear Admiral Harvey E. Johnson, Jr., commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District.
“We see these tragedies all too often. We cannot stress enough the perils of the sea, especially to someone who sets out on a vessel not designed or equipped to face rough seas, high winds and cooler weather conditions like we had this weekend. While the outcome is unfortunate, it is not unexpected for what is an inherently dangerous voyage.”
In addition, the Coast Guard Cutter Monhegan repatriated 17 Cubans who illegally left their country, to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba, on Friday, the guard added.
“They are from four groups that attempted to illegally enter the US since November 26. Another 10 people from one of these voyages are believed to have drowned while attempting their dangerous crossing,” a statement said.
Every year hundreds of Cubans, as well as Dominicans and Haitians, set out trying to reach the US shore illegally, some in boats and some with people smugglers charging thousands of dollars for the trip across shark-infested waters.
Cubans, however, are the only illegal immigrants who, once they set foot in the United States, are allowed to stay and seek US residency. Cuba, with the Americas’ only communist government, says the policy encourages risky—not to mention embarrassing—illegal emigration efforts.
More than 200 Cubans are known to have died at sea since January 2000 trying to make the crossing, according to the US Coast Guard.