Bush to tighten Cuba sanctions, seek new funds
The White House called for $45 million in new funding to hasten and prepare for a democratic transition in Cuba.
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN AND KARL ROSS
WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday called for spending an extra $45 million over the next two years and tighter sanctions on Cuba to hasten and prepare for a democratic transition on the communist-ruled island.
The new restrictions will cut back family visits to Cuba by Cuban Americans from once a year to once every three years and tighten the list of those on the island who can receive cash remittances and packages from the United States.
Part of the $45 million will go toward the purchase of an airplane and broadcasting equipment that may be able to break through Cuba's highly effective jamming of Radio and TV Martí.
''We believe the people of Cuba should be free from tyranny,'' Bush said at the White House while holding up a thick white folder with the recommendations by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which he created in October.
''This is a strategy that says we are not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom. We are working for the day of freedom in Cuba,'' Bush added.
He was accompanied by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who headed the commission, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and other Cabinet-level officials involved in compiling the recommendations, requested by Bush to speed up and prepare for a democratic transition in Cuba.
''There can be no more doubt about the president's stance,'' said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. ``He is the best friend of the Cuban cause that has ever passed through the White House. We are ecstatic.''
Bush has been criticized by Democrats for taking a tough stance on Cuba as a way to earn Cuban-American votes in November, while others in the exile community have complained that his policies have not been hard enough.
The Kerry presidential campaign attacked Bush's decision as politically motivated.
``When John Kerry is president, he will fight for a free and democratic Cuba every single day, not just when election time comes around.''
REACTION IN MIAMI
But in Miami, the reaction to Bush's announcement was less political and more about family.
''He's forcing and reinforcing the same failed policy, but this time you are really punishing the Cuban family,'' said Silvia Wilhelm, an activist who favors closer ties to Cuba. She said the new restrictions will ban her from continuing to send money to three cousins in Cuba. Under the new rules, remittances can go only to grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren.
Ninoska Pérez-Castellón, spokeswoman for the conservative Cuban Liberty Council, said Cuban Americans who send remittances are helping to prop up President Fidel Castro's government.
''It's not about being able to send your family money or being able to visit your family,'' she said. ``There's 12 million people in Cuba and not all of them receive funds from abroad or have relatives who visit them. . . . It's about bringing freedom to all Cubans, not just a few.''
Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, said the group was especially supportive of Bush's pledge to spend $36 million to support the dissident movement in Cuba and buy an aircraft for Radio and TV Martí.
''After 3 ½ years we finally have a policy -- let's move on it,'' Garcia said. ``There are people over there who need our help now.''
`A MIXED BAG'
Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the moderate Cuba Study Group, called the president's new policies ''a mixed bag'' and said that politicizing the issue does little to help Cubans on the island.
''We need to learn to do things that hurt the government, but not at the expense of the people,'' he said. ``That's a very delicate ethical balance. We believe we need to help the Cuban people.''
But Bush administration officials portrayed the tighter sanctions as an effort to reduce frivolous travel to the island.
''Sunbathers are not going to liberate Cuba,'' said Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
The most volatile issue -- cash remittances -- remained intact at a limit of $1,200 a year although they will be limited to immediate family members and exclude Communist Party members.
Noriega said the report was unprecedented and represented an essential part of the U.S. commitment to the Cuban population.
''For the first time ever, a U.S. administration has articulated a definitive, decisive and integrated strategy,'' he said.
``It represents a national commitment to help the Cuban people bring an end to the dictatorship and be prepared to support a democratic transition in meaningful, explicit and specific ways.''
Noriega said most of the recommendations will be implemented within days and that the $45 million to be spent over the next two years will come from already allocated resources, eliminating the need to seek congressional approval. The U.S. government now spends about $7 million a year on Cuba programs.
The report consists of five chapters, the first outlining ways to propel democratic change in Cuba and the other four recommending ways to help a future government to provide basic services, establish democratic institutions, implement a free-market economy and modernize infrastructures.
The report also discusses steps to prevent the planned succession in Cuba under which power would pass from President Fidel Castro to his younger brother, Raúl.
''Any post-Castro succession that perpetuates the regime's hold on power would be completely contrary to the hemisphere's commitment to freedom,'' Powell wrote in the report. ``There can be no reconciliation between the United States and Cuba until far-reaching steps are taken to ensure political and economic liberty on the island.''