Bush ignores UN vote against blockade and toughens policy team on Cuba

Campaign News | Friday, 11 November 2005

Hardliners at the centre of Cuba policy making

By Circles Robinson

Havana, Nov 11 (Prensa Latina): Fresh off a near unanimous 184-4 vote rebuke from the United Nations General Assembly on the 45-year US blockade of Cuba, President George W. Bush may be headed to further increase tensions with the island.

Press reports out of Washington on Wednesday 9th note that a reshuffling of Bush administration officials in positions that affect US policy on Cuba could mean even greater hostility in its longstanding attempt to overthrow the government headed by Fidel Castro.

On Tuesday the UN voted 182-4 in favor of a Cuban resolution demanding the US end its unilateral and extra-territorial blockade. Even Washington?s close allies like the United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Japan voted with Cuba.

One issue being mentioned by hawks like Otto Reich, closely allied to administration policy in Latin America, is provoking an immigration crisis by allowing Cuban emigrants captured at sea by the US Coast Guard to automatically become US residents, just as those who reach American soil under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Another issue is cracking down on the nations that voted against the blockade by punishing their businesspeople for investing in Cuba. Among the new faces are Thomas Shannon as the assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, the governments point main for the region.

Shannon had held the post of White House National Security Council for Latin America. His replacement is Dan Fisk, a former associate of former Senator Jesse Helms, co-writer of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which tightened the blockade.

Other new faces in recent months are Michael Parmly the new head of the US Interests Section in Havana and Stephen McFarland, who heads the State Department?s Cuba Affairs office. Parmly has held recent posts in Bosnia and Afghanistan while McFarland comes off a conflictive diplomatic mission in Venezuela.

A key player in the strategy to undermine the Cuban economy and promote subversion on the promote subversion on the island is CalebMcCarry.

the so-called Cuba transtion coordinator.


His mandate is to implement the recommendations of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which the people in the island have denounced as an annexation plan.

The high-level commission drafted a 450-page report that outlines Washington?s strategy to take control of the island. Rightwing Cuban-American groups based in Miami are hoping that McCarry will tighten the screws on Cuba and further damage its economy.

These organizations, which have not hesitated to back terrorist acts against the island and its officials, are hoping that new extra-territorial sanctions would hit Europeans and Canadians who invest in Cuba.

According to the Cuban Foreign Ministry the nearly half century US blockade has cost the island over 82 billion dollars in losses or added expenses.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is reportedly gung ho on putting a greater focus on Cuba and Latin America.

President Bush just returned from the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina where he met stiff resistance to his continental free trade scheme to benefit US corporations and faced massive demonstrations against his presence.

* The author is an American writer and translator who is currently based in Havana.

Bush reshuffles his Cuba team: Tougher policy is forecast

WASHINGTON - Four new Bush administration appointments to positions that affect US policy on Cuba, plus a pledge to restart the presidential commission on the island's future, are stoking hopes among rabidly rightwing Cuban-Americans for a further tightening of the blockade.

Among their hopes are a revision of the 1995 immigration agreements with Havana that led to the wet-foot, dry-foot policy for Cuban migrants and the full implementation of Helms-Burton sanctions against some foreign investors in Cuba.

The personnel changes on Cuba policy are part of the biggest reshuffle of the State Department's Latin America team since President Bush took office in 2001. Chief among them is the arrival of Thomas Shannon as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, the region's top diplomatic post.

Shannon's previous post running the Latin American team at the White House's National Security Council went to Dan Fisk, a former aide to retired Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who helped draft the notoroious Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and has consistently advocated hard-line positions on Cuba.

Fisk, formerly the No. 3 in the State Department's Western Hemisphere team, with responsibilities over Cuba, Central America and the Caribbean, boasted last year that the recent tightening of US sanctions regime in a way that it has not been challenged at least in the last 25 years."

Among other new Cuba faces: Michael Parmly, the head of the US diplomatic mission in Havana, and Stephen McFarland, the head of the Cuban affairs desk at the State Department in Washington, who both quietly took over this summer.

Then there's Caleb McCarry, the Cuba transition coordinator at State Department - a potentially powerful post filled in late July after it was recommended by a Cabinet-level panel that Bush created, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

McFarland is a career diplomat specializing in Latin America and last served as the deputy chief of mission in Venezuela, where he made a name for himself by daring to go outside the US embassy compound to confront anti-US demonstrators. At the Cuba desk he replaced Kevin Whitaker, who took over McFarland's old job in Caracas.

Parmly, a so-called human rights expert with recent stints in Afghanistan and Bosnia, replaced James Cason in September as the head of the US Interest Section in Havana - a sort of embassy because the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.

A catholic, Parmly has been attending Mass regularly in Havana and is thought to be reaching out to the church in Cuba, an institution that the US hopes will play a role in post-Castro Cuba. But so far he has kept a low profile compared to Cason, whose public displays of support for dissidents regularly infuriated Fidel Castro's government.

But Cuban-Americans are especially encouraged by McCarry's comments to The Miami Herald that he wants to reconvene the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, whose recommendations last year led to a tightening of sanctions intended to deny outside resources to the Castro government.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would head the commission, although some Washington analysts speculate that Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-American, may be asked to act as co-chair

Calzon, who heads the US government funded Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba. means that despite the many urgent and important things that are going on, the secretary will focus on Cuba and the region.

McCarry declined to give details on the commission's future work. He said only that the idea is to follow up on the 2004 report, which looked at ways to hasten and prepare for the fall of Castro.

where we are and where we want to go," said McCarry, long an influential but little known House International Relations Committee aide close to the panel's powerful chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

Bacardi lawyer Otto Reich, a former Bush White House special envoy to the Western Hemisphere who worked closely with the commission to develop its recommendations, said an update was due on several US-Cuba policy fronts.

Reich said the commission could review the policy in which Cuban migrants interdicted at sea are returned to the island, while those who land here are allowed to stay. He called the policy unfair because the US government never turned back refugees fleeing communist countries in Europe.

But critics say the 2004 report, and any future moves by the commission, are just another example of failed US interventionism on Cuba.

"None of the steps have the slightest possibility of bringing down the Castro government," said Wayne Smith, a former head of the US mission in Cuba and now with the Center for International Policy, a Washington advocacy group.

Some Cuban-American activists also hope that President Bush will enforce a long-suspended provision of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that denies visas to foreigners who invest in Cuban properties seized by the Castro government from Cuban citizens or residents. Some in the State Department oppose that sanction because it could anger European and Canadian investors.

"Our hope is that he's going to peel away at some of that bureaucracy," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the US-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee.

McCarry declined to answer questions on enforcing the provision of the Helms-Burton Act. But his office door has a sign pinned on it that says, "Viva la Helms-Burton."


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