New policies on Cuba create backlash

New regulations affecting Cuban Americans who go to Cuba to visit family there have backfired. The Bush administration is facing both divisions within the U.S. Cuban community and opposition in Congress.

In early May, a Bush-appointed “Committee for Assistance to a Free Cuba” recommended that Cuban Americans be allowed to visit relatives every third year rather than once a year, and then only by special permission. The new rules limit them to a 14-day visit, and they must conform to new limitations on money they can spend there themselves and take to their relatives.

There are even new definitions of what constitutes family. Visits to cousins, aunts, and uncles are now out. The new regulations took effect on June 30.

The days leading up to that date were marked by mob scenes at the Miami Airport, as flights were cancelled and ticket holders were kept from boarding planes. Many of those rebuffed had already traveled long distances to connect with flights to Cuba. Charter companies sent extra planes to Havana to bring back visitors concerned about overstaying their 14-day limit. Animosity toward the Bush administration from the assembled throng was palpable, according to media reports.

For some time public opinion polls have suggested that at least half of Florida’s Cubans are raising questions about U.S.-Cuba policy, and polls now show that a majority opposes the new regulations. Most respondents place the blame for the cruel and anti-family measures on an older generation of right-wing, politically influential Cuban Americans, and say Bush is pandering to the old guard. Even that kingpin of right-wing connivance, the Cuban American National Foundation, takes exception to the travel restrictions.

A nationwide coalition of Cuban Americans has set up the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights. Silvia Wilhelm, the group’s director, regards the new restrictions as disastrous for human rights and family values. Commission President Alvaro Fernandez notes that “a vast majority of Cuban Americans support family travel. This is a policy that panders to a minority of Cuban Americans and is nothing more than election year politics.” The commission will be utilizing the courts and upcoming elections to oppose the travel regulations.

On June 24, members of the House of Representatives met with Bush officials to urge them to back away from the new policies, and the next day members of Congress’ Cuba Working Group indicated that they will try to block funding for enforcing the regulations. Joining them was Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.), who until now has been a hard-liner against Cuba.

In a July 1 letter to the New York Times, Miguel Rivas of New Jersey writes, “This is just cheap politics aimed at older Cuban Americans with little family left in Cuba, who vote in higher numbers. Other Cuban Americans vote too, and Mr. Bush is in for a surprise.”

The new restrictions come at a time when Cubans on the socialist island nation are deeply concerned about the increased hostility towards them coming from the Bush administration.

In addition to the new travel restrictions, George W. Bush has directed some $59 million dollars to be spent on undermining Cuban sovereignty, including broadcasting State Department propaganda through U.S.-run Radio and TV Marti.

According to the Center for Defense Information (CDI) Cuba Project, the White House decided to deploy military “Commando Solo” airborne platforms in coordination with the U.S. government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting. “It is unclear whether this aircraft will be operated by the military or the OCB,” the CDI’s June 17 press statement said. The OCB is run largely by Cuban exiles based in Miami who maintain ties to extremist, shadowy elements who “seek to trigger a violent incident that could create a pretext for military action against Cuba,” the CDI said.

Two U.S. carrier strike groups also recently sailed in the vicinity of Cuba as part of a new kind of Navy exercise. These actions have caused great concern among the Cuban people and officials about the growing possibility of a U.S. military action there, according to the CDI.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.