How Bush is tightening the noose around Cuba’s neck

Campaign News | Thursday, 8 April 2004

Mavis Anderson and Philip Schmidt of Progreso Weekly summarise the rising animosity of the Bush administration

We have been witnessing a year of “...efforts by the Bush Administration to raise the intensity of its crackdown on travel by Americans to Cuba.”

At times, the policy has been laughable: The administration recently barred aging veterans of the Buena Vista Social Club from attending the Grammy Awards, because their travel would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States.’ At times, it has been truly misguided. Among the scores of Americans being punished by OFAC is Joni Scott, who was threatened with a $10,000 fine for joining her church on an unlicensed mission to distribute bibles to the Cuban people.

“Mostly, it is alarming. The Office of Foreign Assets Control [OFAC], Treasury’s main arm for stopping the transit of illegal funds to terrorist organizations, is now dedicating one out of every six of its full-time personnel to the enforcement of the Cuba sanctions, rather than to the fight against international financing of terrorism. At the same time, the Senate Finance Committee and the General Accounting Office are raising serious questions about OFAC’s ability to fulfill its duties in the war against terror.” - from the Center for International Policy’s “International Policy BRIEF,” February 27, 2004.

Actions such as those above that have been taken by the Bush Administration over the past year impact not only the ability of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba but, more broadly, further tighten the general embargo against Cuba. These measures contradict the will of the U.S. Congress, the American people, and heighten tensions between our two nations at a time when lessening of tensions would be in the interest of both nations.

All indications are that these destabilizing activities will accelerate as the election approaches. By all measures, U.S.-Cuba relations have sunk to their lowest point since 1996.

A few of the dozens of examples include:

· The United States has suspended the semi-annual immigration talks with Cuba, with no indication that they will resume in the future. The meetings, previously held every six months, were established to monitor accords designed to promote legal, orderly migration between the two countries and to prevent large numbers of Cubans risking their lives by taking to the sea in small vessels. (January 5, 2004)

· The President announced the creation of a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba to “hasten the arrival of a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba” (to Cubans, this sounds like ‘regime change’), and to develop a program to assist the Cuban people in their subsequent transition from dictatorship to democracy, with the preliminary report due to the President by May 1, 2004.

· Undersecretary John Bolton has repeatedly accused Cuba of being a bio-weapons producing state and a “terrorist threat” to the United States, despite repeated denials by top Defense Department officials. His most recent un-documented charge was March 30, while giving testimony before the House International Relations Committee. (March 30, 2004)

· Educational people-to-people travel licenses have been eliminated, thus closing off one of the best ways for citizens from our two countries to learn to know one another and to diffuse tensions. (March 4, 2003)

· Academic programs are experiencing OFAC actions that severely affect cross-cultural learning opportunities for students and the study abroad community as a whole. For example, the Center for Cross-Cultural Study in Amherst, Mass., and Willamette University in Salem, Ore., have organized semester and short-term study abroad programs in Cuba under license from the U.S. Treasury Department for eight years, closely complying with strict federal regulations regarding travel and the types of activities Americans may pursue in Cuba. Regulations governing travel to Cuba are undergoing new interpretations to further restrict opportunities for Americans; and OFAC abruptly issued an order for CC-CS to “cease and desist” their activities in Cuba, without apparent concern for the more than 50 students currently on legal CC-CS programs in Cuba. (March, 2004)

· OFAC, under direction from the Department of State, opined that international symposia held in Cuba are no longer covered by the general license category. Under the general license category, full-time professionals have been able to travel to Cuba to conduct research of an academic non-commercial nature in Cuba, with a substantial likelihood of disseminating the product of that research when they return. In early March, 2004, OFAC said that this category cannot be used in order to attend any conference taking place in Cuba. This appears to be a blatant misinterpretation of the existing guidelines and an outright limitation of legitimate academic and scientific international exchange at the highest levels. (March, 2004)

· OFAC ruled that universities, companies, or individuals that edit texts (including scientific texts) from Cuba and other embargoed nations may “face grave legal consequences” and can be prosecuted under the “Trading with the Enemy” act. They claim that this editing is a service to the nations and therefore is punishable. (New York Times, February 28, 2004)

· The United States steeply increased harassment of all travelers to Cuba for a period of several months. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) carried out heavy-handed “search and seizure” surveillance of tens of thousands of legal travelers to Cuba at departure airports, with little to show for their efforts. (Announced October 10, 2003)

· President Bush announced a measure to cut off all boat traffic to Cuba, saying that they were “putting hard currency in the pocket of the regime,” and taking away from the Coast Guard their responsibility of issuing permits to boaters and yachters. Vessels may be inspected, boarded by guards, and taken possession of. (February 26, 2004)

· Florida Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart stated that the United States should consider assassinating Fidel Castro. While Diaz-Balart’s statement does not mean that this is or will become U.S. policy, it comes at a time when the Bush Administration itself is saying, through its Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, that its primary objective is to bring an end to the Castro regime. Diaz-Balart’s statement, along with U.S. regime change actions in Iraq and Haiti, raises suspicions internationally and certainly in Cuba as to U.S. intentions - and tactics. (March 22, 2004)

· Scores of Cuban citizens have been denied U.S. visas to travel to this country. Some examples are: Pedro Alvarez of Cuba’s agriculture import agency, Alimport, has been regularly denied a visa to the United States to conclude legal food sales contracts with licensed U.S. corporations; Baptist minister and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, Rev. Raul Suarez, was recently denied a U.S. visa to speak at several Alabama churches for Black History Month and to speak at the University of Rhode Island on multiculturalism; members of the Buena Vista Social Club (including 75-year-old Ibrahim Ferrer) were denied visas to attend the 2004 Grammy Awards because their visit was considered “detrimental to the interests of the United States”; Cuban singer Carlos Varela was denied a visa to travel to the United States in March to perform; and many more examples.

· The Department of State has charged that Cuban President Fidel Castro had been fomenting anti-U.S. sentiment in Latin America and, in conjunction with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, insinuating that they are seeking to again ‘export’ revolution to the region. (Wall Street Journal article, February 2, 2004)

· Recently unsubstantiated allegations were made by unidentified Administration sources that a Cuban diplomat expelled from the U.S. in December 2003 was involved in narco-trafficking. State Department officials, asked on the record, said they had no information on this charge and declined to offer a public correction; nonetheless, the media reported the allegation unquestioningly.


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