time to fulfill promises on Cuba
Paul Crespo. Posted on Wed, Aug. 06, 2003
The Cubans are finally rebelling. But it's the
Cubans in Miami, not in Havana, who are up in
arms. Simmering doubts in the Cuban-American community
about President Bush's unexpectedly anemic Cuba
policy have erupted into open discontent with
the recent decision to negotiate the return of
refugees to Cuba to face potential summary trials.
Even Gov. Jeb Bush joined the critical chorus
stating that some of the administration's policy
on Cuba was "just not right.''
The Cuban American National Foundation, too,
launched public broadsides against both the White
House and South Florida's Republican Cuban-American
representatives over the repatriations and broader
Cuba policy. Clearly, the White House needs to
wake up: Cuban Americans cannot be taken for granted.
The president needs to lead.
Karl Rove, Bush's top political advisor, should
be worried that Democrats such as Sens. Joe Lieberman
of Connecticut and Bill Nelson of Florida have
jumped into the fray to drive a wedge in one of
Bush's strongest bases of support. The danger
is real because, despite the partisan (and personal)
jabs among the exiles, there is a growing consensus
that Bush is ignoring their concerns and hasn't
kept his promises on Cuba.
BUSH HAS BEEN BUSY
This is significant because Cuban Americans supported
Bush overwhelmingly in 2000, helping to tip the
balance in that razor-close election. While many
pinned their hopes for democratic change in Cuba
on Bush's tough anti-Castro rhetoric and his appointment
of Cuban Americans such as Otto Reich and Mel
Martínez -- and anti-Castro freedom-fighters
Roger Noriega and Dan Fisk -- to prominent posts,
a lack of follow-up has squandered that initial
To be fair, Bush has been busy with other international
priorities. And despite strong bipartisan congressional
efforts (backed by some powerful GOP lobbies)
to weaken sanctions, Bush has held the line on
the U.S. embargo on Cuba, keeping Castro from
gaining U.S. trade, travel and credits. Bush has
threatened to veto any bill that attempts to soften
the current policy. He also has curtailed so-called
cultural, educational and other oft-abused travel
to the island by simply not renewing many expiring
Treasury Department licenses.
In contrast, President Clinton was slowly but
methodically loosening the embargo and increasing
travel. Hillary Clinton recently hinted that only
Castro's downing of the Brothers to the Rescue
planes in 1996 kept Clinton from trying to normalize
relations with Cuba.
This administration also expelled numerous Cuban
diplomat-spies (as well as uncovered a senior
Castro spy in the Pentagon -- Ana Belén
Montes) and has pursued an aggressive pro-dissident
policy on the island. The latter effort led to
the recent Castro crackdown that exposed his naked
repression and has helped solidify world opinion
against his regime.
Significantly, by avoiding more direct U.S.-Cuba
confrontations, Bush has increasingly ''multilateralized''
the Cuba debate, bringing the Europeans closer
to the U.S. position and further isolating Castro.
The Italian lower house of deputies has called
for sanctions against Cuba, while the French have
cut off official government aid and defied Castro
by continuing to support the dissidents.
But much more needs to be done. Even friends
of Reich and Noriega have noted their frustration
with the administration's lack of follow-through.
Time is running out for Bush to act. Now that
Noriega has been confirmed as assistant secretary
of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, there's
no excuse for failing to implement the more-robust
Cuba policy that Bush promised in 2002.
ENFORCE U.S. EMBARGO
This should include, at minimum, aggressively
enforcing the embargo, accelerating plans to increase
Radio and TV Martí's effectiveness, increasing
assistance to dissidents in Cuba, and reforming
the current visa-lottery system and wet-foot/dry-foot
policy. We also should indict for murder those
responsible in Cuba for the criminal conspiracy
that shot down two American aircraft in international
waters, killing three American citizens and a
Only with concrete actions such as these can
Bush fulfill his promises and regain the confidence
of his Cuban-American supporters before the next
election. The honeymoon may be over.
Paul Crespo is a public policy consultant and