Bush administration rules out any easing of blockade
Campaign News | Thursday, 25 January 2007
Cuban born commerce secretary keeps up hard line
WASHINGTON, USA: US Commerce Secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, has ruled out any easing of the US trade and travel embargo on Cuba until after all remnants of the Fidel Castro regime are removed from power.
Gutierrez, who came to the US in 1960 as his family fled Cuba after Castro came to power, said Castro's frail health and the prospect for political change in the island nation make this the wrong time to adjust restrictions on American trade, investment or travel.
"We should not change our policy, we should not change our law, especially now that there is change in the air," Gutierrez said in an interview in Washington on Wednesday. "We have seen over a long period of time that there is real wisdom in our policy."
At stake is a potential $1 billion-a-year export market for US farm and other goods, the rebirth of a tourist haven for Americans and the end of almost five-decades of diplomatic isolation between countries separated by a 112-mile waterway.
Gutierrez, who has taken the lead on Cuban policy within the Bush administration, signaled Wednesday that President George W. Bush will resist efforts by lawmakers to allow more visits or commerce with the socialist country. The US has restricted trade since Castro's regime confiscated farms and businesses owned by US companies after taking power in 1959.
Castro, 80, ceded power to his brother Raul on July 31 last year as he underwent surgery and treatment for intestinal problems. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said January 17 that Castro's health is in a "delicate situation" following three surgeries on his large intestine.
In December, Raul Castro proposed direct talks with the US to try to end almost five decades of diplomatic tensions.
The US dismissed the offer. Gutierrez, 53, called Raul Castro Fidel's "most loyal disciple," and said he won't change the socialist economy or political system in Cuba.
As Commerce Secretary, Gutierrez has stumped for opening markets with nominally socialist countries such as China, arguing that commercial ties have led to economic development, adult literacy and reduced poverty. Cuba is a different case, he said Wednesday.
"Cuba is one of the two most restrictive economies in the world," he said. "Would we want Americans to travel to North Korea? Cuba is like North Korea."
The restrictions on trade and investment mean companies such as Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. can't bid on Cuban offshore oil tracts, agribusiness giants such as Decatur, Illinois-based Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. face restrictions on wheat sales, and Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd can't send their cruise ships to Havana.
Still, Gutierrez said he isn't getting telephone calls from US companies arguing that the commercial restrictions should end.
"There are so many places in the world to do business, so many places in the world that welcome US companies and US investment," he said. "Before Castro and his people were declared Marxist-Leninists, they were declared anti-Americans. These folks hate us."
Analysts predict that the demise of Fidel Castro could lead to a move in Congress to weaken the embargo.
"I don't expect the end of the embargo for some time, but there could be easing in some areas," said Wayne Smith, director for the Cuba program at the Center for International Policy and the former chief of mission at the US Interests Section in Havana.
So far, the Bush administration has moved in the opposite direction, tightening a 2000 law that allowed agricultural sales, making it tougher to send money to family members in Cuba and clamping down on travel visas.