Politics and Policy

With its severe new Cuba regulations, the Bush administration alienated some Miami exiles, but not the ones who matter

The president also slammed Cuban Americans who send cash remittances. Previously people could wire $300 every three months to any household in Cuba (except select government officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party). Now only remittances to immediate family members are allowed. Travelers used to be able to take up to ten $300 remittances per visit and hand them out; now they can take just one.

And he narrowed the U.S. Commerce Department's already short list of items that can be included in Cuba-bound gift parcels and luggage. The new rule removed "seeds, clothing, personal hygiene items, veterinary medicines and supplies, fishing equipment, and soap-making equipment." The only things left on the list are food, medicine, medical supplies, receive-only AM/FM or shortwave radios, and batteries for the radios.

"I'll be very candid with you," says the senior State Department official. "We want to increase the stresses on that regime, including their budget allocations. We want them to have to explain to the Cuban people why a Cuban policeman is paid four-plus times more than a Cuban nurse. That's not a decision of the United States, that's a decision of the regime. We want to increase the budget allocation complications of the regime. There's a bar of soap for every tourist in Cuba. Why isn't there a bar of soap for every Cuban? Part of the policy is we've asked for some sacrifices from the Cuban people and the Cubans in the U.S. with family on the island. The purpose of this isn't just to inflict pain. The purpose of this isn't just to kind of gratuitously slap people. It's a comprehensive policy. It's not just about personal hygiene products or seeing a relative once every three years. It's about doing everything we can to actually fulfill the objective, which is to hasten change on the island."

Ninoska Perez Castellon says the Cuban Liberty Council's appetite for a tougher embargo is satisfied - for now
Jonathan Postal
Ninoska Perez Castellon says the Cuban Liberty Council's appetite for a tougher embargo is satisfied - for now
President Bush's political strategist Karl Rove knows that winning over Cuban hardliners is essential to victory in Florida
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Bush's political strategist Karl Rove knows that winning over Cuban hardliners is essential to victory in Florida

While President Bush was in Washington formally announcing his tough new Cuba policy on May 6, Joe Garcia and Jorge Mas Santos were already responding at a news conference of their own at CANF's Little Havana headquarters. They congratulated the president for the commission's decision to sink millions more dollars into Radio and TV Martí, which Mas Santos's father, the late Jorge Mas Canosa, had persuaded the Reagan administration to create in 1985. They also lauded Bush for redoubling his support for dissidents in Cuba and authorizing more political and religious organizations to send money to them. They thought "98 percent" of the commission's 500-page report was "fantastic." The only problems were the tighter restrictions that would hurt Cuban-American families. The current regulations were tough enough, Garcia said repeatedly. They just needed to be enforced, that's all.

"If you look at all the legislation the Cuban American National Foundation has pushed, you'll never see anything like this," Garcia continues. "We'll punish investors in Cuba, tourists, we'll punish the Castro regime. But we've always promoted family reunification. We've always promoted people being able to see their families. This violates the very basic tenet of putting family before government.

"The worst thing that happened," he adds, "is they changed the debate. The debate since the dissidents have been put in jail was basically the Cuban government versus its citizens. But now the debate is, again, the United States versus Cuba."


The debate is now also about just whom las restricciones will hurt most -- Cuban-American families, the Castro regime, or Bush and Sen. John Kerry's election hopes. "Obviously the administration made a political decision, in the way that all politicians do, of which particular voice of a particular constituency they were going to listen to," says Mark Falcoff, a Latin America policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, who briefly sat on the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. "They make their decisions, as every administration does, based on a combination of factors, including in an election year how it's going to play politically. And they make these calculations the way the Democrats do about certain labor unions or whatever."

The restrictions are now el exilio's own divisive wedge issue, which fits perfectly into the Republican Party's nationwide strategy of appealing to GOP loyalists rather than targeting the small percentage of voters who are undecided this year. "On the face of it you would think measures that fall so heavily on Cuban Americans would be politically bad for the administration in the run-up to the presidential election," says Bill Leogrande, a Cuba policy expert and dean of the school of public affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. But he points to a well-documented split within el exilio: Newer arrivals have more moderate views on Cuba but vote in far fewer numbers than pre-1980 arrivals, who have more extreme views and vote in greater numbers. "So to mollify the core constituency of the Florida Republican Party, the hardline Cuban Americans, the administration has been willing to sacrifice moderate Cuban Americans," Leogrande observes.

And if the president has infuriated them in the process, it's just not important. "The people who are angry about the restrictions are those who are traditionally least likely to vote," says FIU's Dario Moreno. "Those who are happy with the new policy are those who are more likely to vote. What the mistake could have been is if the restrictions mobilize people that otherwise wouldn't have bothered to vote."

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