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Hardening of Cuba policy is expected from Bush, 12/19/00

Balance is key in Bush Cuba policy, 12/19/00

The Future of Cuba US Relations: 
after Elections 2000

Here we track some the new policy intitiatives of the Bush government around Cuba.

Hardening of Cuba policy is expected from Bush, 12/19/00

More influence by Miami exiles predicted

Cuba watchers are predicting fewer cultural exchanges, a hardening of U.S. policy and increased direct support for dissidents on the island as part of a Bush administration foreign policy toward Fidel Castro's government.

``Nobody's saying that if we have a Republican administration in Washington, the Marines are going to be storming the ports of Cuba tomorrow,'' said Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, buoyant about the possibility of a toughening in U.S.-Cuba policy.

But she did forecast tougher talk, tougher restrictions on American business travel and fewer contacts between Americans and nondissident Cubans to turn back the tide of what she called ``a trickling, weakening of the U.S. embargo day-by-day during the Clinton administration.''

Both supporters and opponents predict that Rep. Lincoln Diaz- Balart, the South Florida Republican, will have some influence on the administration Cuba policy.

In April, he met for more than an hour in his congressional office with Condoleezza Rice, Bush's nominee to become national security advisor.

According to Republican sources, he later submitted a memo to the Bush campaign that articulated the three Cuba pillars of a future Bush administration: no ties without free elections, freedom for political prisoners and the free expression of ideas.

Clinton policy had tentatively promoted an increased opening toward Cuba -- mostly in the form of people-to-people contacts -- as a strategy for toppling Castro communism.

Now some Cuba experts are predicting a reexamination of those portions of the Helms-Burton Law that presidents can waive, while others anticipate a greater belligerence because of the influence of the Miami exile community within the GOP.

A first Helms-Burton test could come as soon as April when the White House must decide whether to lift a moratorium on Title III of the legislation, which allows exiles to sue in U.S. courts any business now operating in Cuba on state-confiscated property.

President Clinton signed the bill after the February 1996 ambush by Cuban MiGs of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that killed four South Floridians.

The Democratic administration, however, always considered the provisions of Title III a potential trap that would create problems with U.S. trade partners because they are in direct conflict with the free-trade provisions of the World Trade Organization, the body that governs international commerce.

As a result, Clinton repeatedly waived the lawsuit portion and avoided full implementation of another section, Title IV, that penalizes foreign firms that do business with Cuba by denying U.S. visas to their executives.

Cuban American National Foundation Executive Vice President Dennis Hays said he expects a Bush administration to highlight the presence of dissident groups, independent journalists and political prisoners on the island.

``I do think there is going to be movement to try to foster democracy more, and change,'' said Hays, who ran the State Department's Cuba desk in the mid '90s.

An example: The U.S. spent $10 million promoting democracy in Serbia this year, he said, compared to $2 million to U.S.-based groups that forge ties with dissidents and Castro opponents on the island.

Watch that sum rise, Hays predicts, and watch for an interpretation of Helms-Burton that allows for direct assistance to lawyers, independent journalists and other anti-regime resources.

``There is a chance for a new administration to make a mark,'' he said. Expressing an opinion held by many Republicans, he said that policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. ``Here is its outpost,'' he added, ``and a chance for it to go away too.''

Former U.S. Interests Section chief in Havana, Wayne Smith, put it this way: ``I would imagine that U.S. policy toward Cuba across-the-board will become more severe.''

An advocate of strategic engagement to create change in the Castro system, he characterized coming Cuba policy as a payoff to Cuban Americans in South Florida for Bush's November election. ``I think momentum toward engagement and easing the embargo is gone for a time, despite the majority wishes,'' Smith said, citing farm interests and big businesses as well as some religious groups that seek more active engagement with Castro's Cuba.

John Kavulich of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council likewise predicted an early administration slowdown in the Treasury Department's issuing of licenses and permits for travel and business deals in Cuba, while the State Department and Treasury await signals from the White House.

``Bureaucrats want to cover themselves,'' he said, adding that there was a similar licensing backlog between the last Bush and Clinton administrations.

For the rest of the article, see

Balance is key in Bush Cuba policy, 12/19/00

St. Petersburg Times
December 19, 2000, Tuesday

Cuban exiles want even tougher embargo pressure on Cuba while more Republicans oppose sanctions.

MIAMI - As candidates, there was little to distinguish the platforms of George W. Bush and Al Gore over U.S. policy toward Cuba.

To all appearances they promised more of the same. That is to say, a future defined by preserving the status quo: tight restrictions on trade with the government of Fidel Castro, coupled with calls for a democratic opening.

But after such a close election in Florida, the crucial role played by Miami-Dade's Cuban-American voters could create a major challenge to current Cuba policy.

It also potentially presents President-elect Bush with a tricky balancing act within his own party, which has in recent years witnessed increasing numbers of conservative Republicans turn against the Cuba embargo.

"We expect a Bush administration to live up to its word," said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, Miami's most important exile organization. "I think he (Bush) has spoken clearly about implementing U.S. law."

What that means, however, is open to interpretation.

Garcia said Cuban exiles expect Bush to take a more proactive Cuba policy. That includes an ambitious, and potentially controversial, wish list of measures to pile political and economic pressure on Castro.

Key among those are:

Full implementation of tough embargo legislation - under the 1996 Helms-Burton act - to punish foreign companies "trafficking" in property confiscated from its original owners in Cuba.

An indictment of Castro for the 1996 shoot-down of two light planes piloted by Miami exiles off the Cuban coast.

New resources to boost the signal of TV Marti, a U.S. government broadcast directed at Cuba.

A shake-up of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the embargo.

Garcia said the exile leadership also expected the Justice Department to take a serious look at the Cuban government's alleged links to "narco-terrorism," as well as the island's role as a haven for as many as 74 convicted U.S. criminals.

But some leading Cuba analysts predict that Bush will make little effort to stir up Cuba policy.

Instead, they point to his official Cuba policy platform, which talks merely of upholding existing embargo legislation, with little hint of any major new direction.

"Al Gore nearly won Florida with minimal Cuban-American support," said Philip Peters, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a free-market, conservative think tank in Washington. "That should dispel people of the idea that you need Cuban exile support to win Florida."

Cuban-Americans make up about 8 percent of the Florida electorate, and this year they voted roughly 80 percent Republican. Peters and others recognize that the Cuban vote is a factor that politicians must take into account. But its importance to Cuba policy can be overstated, they say. Lately, rival interests have emerged.

"In the past they (Cuban-Americans) owned the issue," said Mark Falcoff, a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "They are now facing competition from other constituencies."

Stemming largely from the farm crisis of the mid 1990s, conservative Republicans in grain states have formed a rare alliance with liberal Democrats in Congress to loosen the Cuba embargo.

The powerful agriculture lobby has already made some legislative inroads, including lifting the ban on the sale of food to Cuba last October. Major restrictions were attached to that legislation, but only after the Republican leadership intervened on behalf of the Miami-led pro-embargo lobby.

Analysts say that may not be the last word. Further challenges are expected in Congress.

"I think Congress will pick up right where it left off," said Peters. Even if Bush officials don't approve, there may be little they can do about it.

"I don't think (the Bush administration) will ignore the hard-line (Cuban exile) point of view," added Peters. "But they don't have the luxury to ignore the moves that are going to come from Congress. We are talking about a strong, broad-based, bipartisan coalition."

Anti-embargo leaders have watched with amazement how the movement has evolved. One group, Americans for Humanitarian Trade With Cuba, was started with a mainly Democrat following. "Now we have a lot of Republicans on board," said director Silvia Wilhelm.

Among them is co-chairman, Craig Fuller, the former chief of staff for Vice President George Bush in the Reagan White House. Other notable Republicans who have spoken out against the use of sanctions as a tool of foreign policy include Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz.

"Of course, Bush must feel grateful to the Cuban voters in South Florida, but he also has to thank Republican big business who helped get him elected," said Wilhelm. "He's going to have to find a middle road, because in his own backyard people want change."

On the other hand, Bush cannot help being influenced by the situation of his brother. In less than two years Jeb Bush could face a momentous battle to win re-election as state governor.

With Democrats expected to campaign heavily among those Jewish and black communities where dimpled ballots were not counted in November, Jeb Bush will need all the help he can get.

"He (Jeb) needs the (Cuban-American) vote more than any presidential race," said Carlos Saladrigas, a wealthy Cuban-American business leader. "(George W.) Bush isn't going to to do anything to hurt his brother."

While the importance of the Cuban vote can be exaggerated, there is no question that it was one of a number of key factors that undoubtedly saved the state for Bush. High Cuban turnout helped cut the Democrats' margin of victory in Miami-Dade this year to only 40,000 votes, down from 110,000 in 1996.

Cuban exile leaders boast they raised as much as $ 1-million in campaign donations this election, both to the Bush-Cheney ticket, and other candidates. Two top Cuban exile leaders, CANF treasurer Feliciano Foyo and Armando Codina, are among the state's 25 appointed electors. Foyo was treasurer of Jeb Bush's first unsuccessful run for governor in 1994. Codina is a former business partner of Bush.

After a year of setbacks for the anti-Castro cause, from the saga of rafter-boy Elian Gonzalez to new holes in the Cuba embargo, victory in the Nov. 7 elections tasted of sweet revenge for many Cuban exiles.

According to Saladrigas, the message from Cuban voters this year is clear.

"They (politicians) cannot ignore this vote in future elections," he said. "We matter. We count."

Although Miami Cubans voted en masse for Bush, opinions are less clear on specific issues of Cuba policy. According to a recent poll of Cuban-American attitudes to U.S. policy, opinions varied widely.

The poll, conducted by Florida International University, found that while most Miami Cubans were concerned by a lack of change in Cuba, "they are far from monolithic in their support for different policies." While 64.2 percent of exiles support the embargo, a majority supported the sale of food and medicine to the island.

Cuban exile leaders say all they are asking is for Washington to live up to its promises. They complain that for political convenience the Clinton administration chose not to enforce existing laws.

No matter that strict enforcement of Helms-Burton legislation would throw Washington back into conflict with U.S. allies in the European Union.

"What is unacceptable is the status quo," said CANF's Garcia. "We are talking about the hemisphere's longest-running dictatorship. This is not child's play."

Even so, some analysts are surprised by CANF's tough talk. "I can see Bush would be on the spot on that," said Falcoff. "But I can't imagine they would throw all their energy into it. One has to be a little realistic and recognize which way the wind is blowing."

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