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A Cold, Poll-Driven Calculation

Bush’s Cruel New Rules on Cuba

by Rep. BILL DELAHUNT

Divert resources from antiterrorism investigations, mandate burdensome government paperwork and forbid families from helping — or even seeing — their relatives. That’s the new U.S. policy toward Cuba.

As if four decades of a failed embargo were not enough, the White House just made matters breathtakingly worse. To demonstrate its disdain for Fidel Castro to Florida’s hard-line exiles, the White House will now punish those most critical to the future stability of post-Castro Cuba: the moderate Cuban-American community.

The Bush administration recently announced a battery of provocative steps to undermine the Cuban government, but the real impact — like the existing travel ban — is mainly on U.S. citizens.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the tightened restrictions on, of all people, Cuban Americans. Until now, they could travel to the island annually and without hassle. The tears of joy at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport, as relatives from across the Florida Straits are reunited, are profound testament to the deep devotion of the Cuban people to the sanctity of the family — and to the hope for a day when the only obstacle to family reunions would be the 40-minute flight.

That spirit now is apparently contrary to U.S. foreign policy. The new rules permit Cuban Americans to visit the island once every three years — and then only if they can get a license to travel from the Treasury Department. Consciously or not, this is eerily similar to the Castro regime’s use of exit visas to determine which Cubans can visit their families living abroad.

On top of that, the White House has also restricted remittances. Under the changes, Americans are permitted to send cash only to a Cuban child, parent, sibling or grandparent — but not to cousins or nephews.

As foreign policy, this further undercuts the most effective force for democracy in Cuba: direct exchanges between ordinary Cubans and ordinary Americans, especially Cuban Americans. As domestic policy, it creates an expensive mandate for the federal ”travel police” to enforce the new rules. And as politics, it subordinates all else to a single electoral imperative: pandering to a shrinking and increasingly fringe element in South Florida.

Never mind that the United States just normalized relations with the Gadhafi dictatorship in Libya, leaving Cuba as the only country in the world that average Americans are prohibited from visiting. Never mind that the federal agency responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden’s assets wastes 20 percent of its resources on prosecuting U.S. citizens who travel — often innocently, sometimes legally — to Cuba. Or that we can spare military aircraft to beam propaganda into Cuba but can’t find a dime to help starving Haitians a few miles away. Or that the new rules come only a few months after both the House and Senate voted, by large bipartisan majorities, to lift the travel ban altogether.

The new Cuba rules are a cold, poll-driven calculation that has less to do with democracy-building in Havana than with vote-counting in Miami.

This is, however, a miscalculation. It will not break Castro’s resolve. It will do nothing to offer help to those in need in Cuba. Just ask Oswaldo Paya, the courageous dissident and leader of the Varela Project who lamented last week that the authors of the U.S. changes “looked to their own needs rather than those of Cuba and the peaceful opposition movement.”

In announcing the changes, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega said that our goal is to “liberate the Cuban people from . . . dependence on international charity.”

For a Cuban American, returning to the island for a brother’s funeral or sending money to a needy aunt is not international charity; it is honoring the most fundamental of family values. To crack down on these familial responsibilities does nothing to advance U.S. interests.

U.S. Rep. BILL DELAHUNT, D-Mass., serves on the House Committee on International Relations and co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Cuba Working Group.