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Posted May 23, 2004 by publisher in US Tourism to Cuba

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In the weeks after that devastating day in September 2001 when terrorists struck at America’s symbols of financial and political strength, the United States launched a war on terrorism. The first salvo from the United States was perhaps the smartest: freezing millions of dollars in assets held by suspected terrorist groups and their affiliates. As President Bush noted, “Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations.”

Today, 2 years later, money is still the lifeblood of terrorists, and stopping the flow of funding is the key to victory in our fight against them. Yet the division at the Treasury Department in charge of tracking terrorist financing and enforcing sanctions programs, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, is not committing every resource to the crucial financial front in the war on terror.

The office employs some 120 people. Of these 120, 21 dedicate their time to just one of the 19 sanctions programs administered by the office. If you think the country targeted by that sanctions program is Iraq or Iran, you’d be wrong. It is Cuba, and in the office’s cross hairs are the American people themselves.

More than a decade after the Soviet bloc collapsed, the U.S. travel ban on Cuba still stands. Only a few Americans, such as Cuban Americans with relatives on the island and members of U.S. companies seeking to sell food to the island, are allowed to travel there on a limited basis. The Office of Foreign Assets Control administers and enforces this ban on others.

Among the criminal Cuba travelers that the office’s investigators have uncovered: a 75-year-old grandmother from San Diego who took a bicycling trip on Cuba, an Indiana Christian academy teacher who delivered Bibles there and a Washington man who traveled there to spread his parents’ ashes at the site of the church they founded.

Six months ago, President Bush directed the Treasury Department and Department of Homeland Security to step up enforcement of the travel ban. Several top administration officials report that the assets control office has trained hundreds of customs officials, who search flights to and from Cuba at airports in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. Those agents, these top officials boast, uncovered more than 300 violations - of the restrictions on importing Cuban cigars.

In Washington, the Treasury Department’s lack of focus on the war on terrorism is even more stark. Since 1990, the assets control office has opened just 93 enforcement investigations related to terrorism, and, since 1994, it has collected $9,425 in fines for violations related to terrorism financing. During the same time frames, the office opened 10,683 enforcement cases against the Cuba embargo and has collected $8 million in fines for Cuba embargo violations.

Such tactics divert precious resources from the war on terrorism and benefit few.

Cutting off dollars and American travel only harms the Cuban people and the effort to open Cuba to U.S. ideals. Cuba’s fledgling private sector is already fighting for survival. Undermining it helps reinforce Fidel Castro’s opportunistic caricature of Uncle Sam.

Sixty percent of Cubans now get access to U.S. dollars through the tourist economy and from family remittances.

Make no mistake; there needs to be change in Cuba. But change is inevitable. Flooding the island with Americans, U.S. dollars and U.S. democratic ideals would provide the country with the breath of fresh air it so desperately needs.

Rather than fussing over a few cigars and wasting precious resources to enforce an outdated and ineffective embargo and travel ban against Cuba, let us direct our attention to cutting off the flow of money to terrorists who would attack our troops or sneak a bomb onto an airplane. The security of this nation depends on it.

Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., are founders of the Senate Working Group on Cuba and sponsors of legislation to lift the Cuba travel ban.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on May 26, 2004 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Factual and well written.

    We welcome oposing comments.

    Please point out the inaccuracies in this article?

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