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Bush's "Initiative for a New Cuba"

Council on Hemispheric Affairs
1444 I St. NW Suite 211
Washington DC 20005
(202) 216-9261
For Immediate Release

Monday, 5/20/02
Uneducable on New Reality:
Bush's "Initiative for a New Cuba,"
Repeats Same Old Bankrupt Policies as it Panders to Extremist Miami Exiles

* Bush's Cuba policy is like a cruise ship without any passengers-it scarcely has a constituency

* The president auctions off U.S. Cuba policy in exchange for financial support from the Cuban-American National Foundation

* Not a word in Bush's speech about Havana's alleged bio-terrorism

* There is not a single member of Bush's Latin America team who has the vision to achieve Cuban democratization through constructive engagement rather than confrontation

* Bush's granting a hunting license to Otto Reich will do great damage to U.S.-Latin American relations, as the latter will mainly focus on skullduggery against Cuba, to the neglect of the rest of the hemisphere

* More aid to Cuban dissidents will serve to further discredit them, casting them as quislings

* Miami's increasing political pluralism, led by a fractured Cuban-American community's attitudes towards Castro, is already weakening local support for Bush's hard-line policies

* Bush turns his back on Carter's constructive plan to lift the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba and terminate embargo

* Carter's trip to Cuba will have a far more lasting impact on U.S. policy than Bush's continued hard-line

* Carter's grandeur of purpose for his Cuban mission is in sharp contrast to Bush's shabby pandering to the well-heeled ultra-right who increasingly represent only themselves

Two Contrasting Presidents

While former President Jimmy Carter's recent trip to Cuba was representative of the American public's rational desire to normalize trade and travel relations with the Caribbean island, President Bush's May 20 White House speech to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Cuban independence served only to highlight his administration's self-serving and opportunistic use of the Cuban issue for electoral gain and the raising of campaign funds.

Later today, speaking before Miami's Cuban American National Foundation, to an audience almost exclusively comprised of high-paying Cuban exiles, Bush emphatically denounced the Castro regime and unveiled his uncompromisingly hard-line position towards Cuba. Bush, with assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Otto Reich, at his side, announced that the U.S. would intensify its economic and political isolation of Cuba by maintaining the existing travel ban and embargo, increasing aid to political dissidents on the island and purportedly cranking up the volume and vociferousness of U.S. produced anti-Castro broadcasts in Cuba.

No Mention of Bio-Terror Charge in List of Misdeeds

Equally important as what Bush said, is what he did not say. In a statement made at the White House prior to his departure to Miami, Bush assailed Cuba for such past misdeeds as "importing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles" and exporting "military forces to encourage civil war abroad," however the president shockingly enough failed to address his administration's latest accusation that Cuba has an ongoing bio-terror export industry. Bush did not repeat the sensational bio-terrorism charges against Castro first made on May 6 by under-secretary of state John Bolton, which is further indication that they were a hoax concocted by senior Cuban-American extremist policymakers, led by Reich, who today dominate regional strategy.

Pandering for Campaign Funds Divides Party

Despite the fact that over forty years of economic embargo and travel restrictions have failed to catalyze a democratic revolution in Cuba, Bush will not give up on the bankrupt strategy because doing so would cost him and his brother the invaluable constituency of hard-line Cuban-Americans, who, in the November 2000 elections, delivered the go-ahead voting block that secured Bush's victory and who still dominate politics in the pivotal swing state of Florida. Despite, his public proclamation that "political and economic freedoms go hand in hand," the Bush administration is reluctant to let economic freedoms to proceed political ones. Such a hard-line position however, is losing its footing in even the most conservative of constituencies. In fact, a recent poll conducted in Miami indicates that the Cuban-American population, which once favored policies aimed at economically asphyxiating Cuba, now favor rescinding restrictions barring travel and are evenly divided on lifting the embargo. Furthermore, the Republican Party's unity is beginning to unravel on this issue as Midwestern members of the party separate themselves from the administration and seek to undo the embargo that has prevented their agricultural constituencies from tapping an increasingly valuable export market.

It is shameless that Bush outlines his proposal for stepped-up pressure on Castro within the context of a fundraising appeal to one of the most extreme rightwing bodies of Cuban exiles-notorious for funding violence and terrorism abroad-the Cuban American National Foundation. This underlines the increasingly evident fact that, for the myopic Bush administration, U.S.-Cuba relations have little to do with foreign relations or national interest and everything to do with roughhouse domestic politics.

Costly Failure to Lift Failed Strategy

Bush's comments in Miami, which come from the Dark Ages of Cold War politics, stood out in stark contrast to the dignified and diplomatic message conveyed by Carter directly to the Cuban citizens. Carter's message is likely to have a much greater long-term impact on democratizing Cuba than Bush's pandering to an increasingly irrelevant hard-line Cuban-American constituency. Carter-granted unprecedented access to the island's people through the state-controlled media outlets-came across as actually interested in the Cuban population and their struggles, while Bush appears determined to use their cause to insure his and his brother's success at the polls. While the Bush administration talks about "accelerating Cuba's transition to democracy," Carter is actually doing so. Despite Reich's assertion that "companies across Canada, Latin America, and Europe are losing money in Cuba," U.S. business interests and agro-industry remain eager for the administration to lift the embargo so that they may gain access to the island's largely untapped consumer market. The Bush administration's race to the bottom, in the cause of the Cuban-Americans' well-heeled pockets, is fracturing his party.

The Bush administration would rather accelerate Cuba's transition to its definition of democracy through the use of thinly-veiled military threats and covert support of Cuban dissidents, rather than by means of mutually beneficial and increasingly profitable trade opportunities as well as cultural and academic exchange programs. While Carter attempts to promote an atmosphere where constructive engagement between the two Cold War adversaries will end an archaic isolationist policy, the Bush administration insists on pursuing a failed policy that has gone un-reexamined for more than four decades.

Powell's Insipid Role

Secretary of State Colin Powell has become an increasingly ineffective, if not completely irrelevant, figure in the entire Cuba debate, as he seems content to stand aside while Reich and his hard-line cabal formulate a Cuba policy that is dominated by seething personal animus towards Castro, rather than by the pursuit of authentic national interest. Ultimately, it will be Powell's reputation that suffers from the incendiary comments by hard-line policymakers, who apparently, are given the green light to launch unfounded accusations and, in the process, embarrass their superior. A prime example of this was the accusations made by under-secretary for arms control John Bolton that claimed Cuba was exporting bio-terror. However, Powell has not gone so far as to repudiate any of these outlandish accusations or reprimand the State Department fabricators responsible for them, but rather has weakly opted to tone down their language. Powell's unprincipled silence is an admission of complicity, which jeopardizes not only his legacy, but also authentic U.S. interests in the Caribbean and throughout the rest of the western hemisphere.

While the White House "will not throw a lifeline to save a regime that is sinking under the weight of its own historic failures" it is willing to bet its future on a hard-line political constituency in Miami that is crumbling under the divisiveness of its non-negotiable extremist position.


This analysis was prepared by Larry Birns and Alex Volberding, COHA research group.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policymakers."

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