Kerry: Bush's Cuba policy `punishes and isolates' Cubans
Campaign News | Sunday, 6 June 2004
Democrat would ease travel ban
MIAMI June 5: Denouncing President Bush's crackdown on Fidel Castro as election-year politicking that "punishes and isolates the Cuban people," John Kerry told The Miami Herald that he would encourage "principled travel" to the island and lift the cap on gifts to its people.
In his first detailed remarks on Cuba policy since clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, the Massachusetts senator sought to carve out a middle ground in what has been a dicey subject for him. He embraced the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and support for dissidents, but criticized Bush's restriction of travel and cash gifts to Cubans on the island as a "cynical and misguided ploy for a few Florida votes."
Kerry said in the telephone interview Friday that Bush's new hard-line policy restricting travelers to a single visit every three years "punishes and isolates the Cuban people and harms the Cuban Americans with relatives on the island while leaving Castro unharmed."
"Selective engagement, not isolation, is the best way for the American people to send real, not just rhetorical, hope for a better future to the Cuban people," he said.
Kerry, who has a long voting record generally sympathetic to increasing contact with the island and has faced Republican criticism for shifting stances on the trade embargo, sought to fine-tune his position.
A decade ago, Kerry, an influential force behind the decision to lift the trade embargo against Vietnam, pushed to ease travel restrictions in Cuba. He said Friday, though, that he would lift only the ban on Cuba travel that is not "pure tourism," suggesting that democracy efforts in Poland, Russia and China were aided by similar "political travel."
"It's travel that is engaged between families, travel engaged for culture and advancement," he said. "I think you want to begin a process that engages on a principled, measurable goal rather than just going to the Hemingway bar somewhere and spending some money."
Kerry said he would also lift the restriction on remittances to allow gifts to "households and humanitarian institutions." Bush has restricted gifts to only "immediate family members," but Kerry said the money can be a "powerful tool" to help Cubans on the island start small businesses "and thereby gain a measure of autonomy."
And he accused the Bush administration of failing to better engage the international community to oppose Castro, a position that mirrors his criticism of the president's strategy on the war in Iraq, which Kerry has said has damaged U.S. credibility.
"If we were more effective," he said, "we would have a little more goodwill in the bank to be able to effectively move the international community with respect to Cuba."
Kerry's stab at a more nuanced Cuba policy comes as some suggest that by playing to those exiles who urged him to get tough on Castro, Bush may have alienated more moderate Cuban Americans, particularly newer arrivals with relatives still on the island. Nearly 200,000 people traveled to Cuba from the United States last year, and some Cuban-American groups have pledged to launch voter registration drives to target Bush.
Bush's new restrictions came after pleading from hard-line exiles who said the Republican president sorely needed to shore up his conservative base after failing to deliver the aggressive anti-Castro strategy that he had promised the Cuban community during the election and a 2002 visit to Miami.
At least eight in 10 of Florida's nearly half-million Cuban-American voters backed Bush in 2000, when he won the state by just 537 votes, but polls conducted before he announced the new restrictions last month suggested that his approval ratings were slipping.
The new restrictions, which include reducing the number of visits to the island and limiting spending during family visits, met with acclaim from some of his Republican critics.
But the rift between Bush and some in the traditionally loyal GOP voting bloc energized Democrats who hope to peel at least a sliver of votes away from the president as part of an aggressive push to target Hispanic voters in the state. Democratic strategists note that if they can take away even a portion of the Cuban-American electorate, their nominee can win Florida - and the White House - just as President Clinton did in 1996, when he won an estimated 40 percent of the Cuban vote.
Democrats have been divided on whether to court Cuban Americans on Cuba or on issues such as healthcare and education. But Kerry's campaign said it believes that Bush has given the Democratic candidate an opening by pursuing a hard-line strategy.
A spokesman for the Bush campaign suggested that Kerry's remarks were pandering "from a candidate who, every time he had the opportunity, voted against restrictions on Castro."
"Sen. Kerry's talk is always tough, but his votes always go easy on Castro," said the spokesman, Reed Dickens. "His policy proposals for the people of Cuba are policies that are already in existence. They show a lack of understanding of the existing policy and a total disconnect with his entire voting career."
Republicans have already sought to label Kerry as soft on Castro, pointing to a 2000 interview in which Kerry told The Boston Globe that the only reason the United States treated Cuba differently from China and Russia was the "politics of Florida."
Kerry voted against the final version of 1996 legislation designed to strengthen trade sanctions against Cuba, but told a Miami television reporter during a visit to South Florida that he backed the measure.
He said Friday that he supported the embargo, but voted against the final version because it included a controversial provision to allow Cuban Americans to sue foreign ventures using property confiscated by Cuba.
The Bush administration has maintained the Clinton policy of preventing such lawsuits, but Kerry said Friday that the administration is looking at enforcing the provision, which the European Union has denounced.
"This will further strain relations with Canada and our European allies when, frankly, we most need them," Kerry said. "Instead, I will work to craft a policy toward Cuba that our allies can join and support."
Kerry Statement on Cuba in Full
John Kerry: Statement of Principles on U.S. Cuba Policy
June 05, 2004
For Immediate Release
I am committed to seeing the end to the Castro regime, which I have long condemned for its flagrant human rights abuse and political oppression. There is no excuse for the Castro regime to hold down over 11 million talented and hardworking citizens of the Americas, some of our closest neighbors. Let there be no mistake about my view: I will support effective and peaceful strategies that will hasten the end of the Castro regime as soon as possible, and enable the Cuban people to take their rightful place in the democratic community of the Americas. But the policy of this Administration punishes and isolates the Cuban people while leaving Castro and his consorts unharmed, free to blame the United States for their own failures.
I want to work with all Americans, especially the broad and diverse Cuban-American community, others in the Latino community, the United States Congress, our neighbors in this hemisphere, and the international community, to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba, putting the focus on Castro's failures instead of our policy.
President Bush's recent election-year move to significantly restrict cash remittances to Cuban families and virtually eliminate family travel must be seen for what it is -- a cynical and misguided ploy for a few Florida votes. This move will not pressure Castro. But it will pressure Cuban-Americans and their often elderly relatives across the straits. I am not going to pander and promise something no president in the last 45 years has been able to deliver. I want to take steps to help all of us, including Cubans and their families in Cuba, work toward a democratic solution and the ultimate end to the Castro regime in a peaceful and democratic way. President Bush, on the other hand, has asked Cuban-Americans to choose between their government and their families on the island, steps widely denounced not only by Cuban families, but also by leading dissidents on the island. When the President's proposals take effect, the misery of the Cuban people, not of Castro, is sure to rise.
Instead, we should promote the interchanges of ideas that will begin now to lay the foundations for economic prosperity and an independent civil society that I believe are so critical to peace and democracy. I would begin by encouraging principled travel. George Bush wants to end most travel to Cuba. Cuban-American families are the most positive force for change in Cuba today. Why limit their freedom to press for change? Humanitarian trade in food and medicine is another powerful way to strengthen the foundation of freedom and democracy. And we have a bipartisan consensus in the Congress for such steps.
Indeed, I have consistently joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in votes with bipartisan majorities to end the travel ban and to permit the sale of food and medicine, while voting to censure Cuba for human rights violations. Last year, both houses of Congress voted in favor of lifting the travel ban - and only Bush Administration opposition prevented the bipartisan will of Congress from becoming law. These votes signal my belief and that of the Congress that selective engagement, not isolation, is the best way for the American people to send real, not just rhetorical, hope for a better future to the Cuban people.
I have also consistently supported remittances because I believe they can become a powerful tool for all Cuban-Americans and all Americans to help Cubans on the island not just to survive, but also to start small businesses and thereby gain a measure of autonomy from the crushing repression of the Cuban state. We should lift the remittance cap and allow all Americans to send remittances to households and humanitarian institutions. The Bush announcement to curb travel and remittances, will not only hurt Cuban families, but will also prompt the Castro regime again to blame the United States for the Cuban people's suffering.
I also support the free flow of information to Cuba. Enhancing communication through news bureaus, people-to-people contact, effective support for dissidents and civil society, and an accessible, soundly managed, fair and balanced Radio and TV Martí can help reduce the isolation of the Cuban people. But at the end of the day, the best way to communicate American ideals to Cubans is to let Americans and Cubans talk face to face.
Let me be clear - I do not support lifting the embargo or recognizing Castro's dictatorial regime. While reducing the economic isolation of the Cuban people, I want to work with the international community to increase political and diplomatic pressure on the Castro regime to release all political prisoners, support civil society, and begin a process of genuine political reform.
This effort will come as part of a broader initiative to restore American credibility with our allies. President Bush on the other hand is now considering implementing extra territorial aspects of the Helms-Burton law, aimed at punishing foreign countries and companies for investing in Cuba. This will further strain relations with Canada and our European allies when, frankly, we most need them. With American credibility abroad suffering from this White House's smug disregard for world opinion, extra-territorial steps will only make matters worse. Instead, I will work to craft a policy toward Cuba that our allies can join and support.
Over the last forty-five years our government has tried everything from invasion and covert operations to economic sanctions and international pressure to bring about change in Cuba. The American taxpayer has spent billions of dollars on the cause, to no avail. For example, under the Bush administration, far more manpower at the Treasury is dedicated to enforcing the Cuba travel ban than to tracking down terrorist financing. A policy of isolation and deprivation sends the wrong message to the Cuban people and strengthens Castro and the hardliners around him, allowing them to manipulate information about America's intentions.
As President, I will seek to reverse that equation and show Cubans on the island that the United States government and all of its citizens, including Cuban-Americans, can be positive partners for the island's free and democratic future.