June 2, 2004
In its haste to undermine the Cuban government, the Bush administration may be sowing the seeds of its own demise.
The administration's tougher-on-Cuba policy announced in May is already backfiring. Many Cuban Americans are opposing the latest changes governing travel and remittances to the island. Even many famous dissidents in Cuba have asked the Bush administration to reconsider.
The administration is tightening travel restrictions for U.S. citizens and limiting the number of family visits Cuban Americans can make to Cuba. As for remittances, the president's plan calls for more closely supervising cash transfers and restricting them to direct family members who are not Communist Party officials.
Cuban American families would now be allowed to reunite only once every three years. Cuban Americans are allowed only 44 pounds of luggage and can spend only $50 a day instead of $167 as they formerly allowed.
The administration is taking this hard line in hopes of solidifying its support among right-wing Cuban Americans who want to strike back at Cuban President Fidel Castro any way they can. But there is a growing constituency in Cuban American communities that want the United States to engage amicably with Cuba.
Both political parties are vying for the votes of the shrinking 4 percent of the mostly anti-engagement Cuban American vote, but they are ignoring the other 96 percent of the Latino vote.
Unlike other immigrant waves of poor, uneducated and disenfranchised people from Latin America, most of the 200,000 Cubans who came to the United States in the early 1960s were members of Cuba's upper-class elite. These were the people who could send their children to Ivy League universities. They took regular trips to Miami and New York to catch up on the latest U.S. fashion.
Thanks to decades of preferential treatment, Cuban American political elites get away with incredible deals like the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1996. This law gives Cubans arriving in the United States expedited and unrestricted permanent resident status, as well as access to housing, education and welfare programs. Any Cuban (regardless of whether he or she arrived in the United States legally or illegally) qualifies for government programs. No other immigrant group enjoys such a welcome.
This preferential treatment has not gone unnoticed by other Latino communities.
The Bush administration's anti-engagement policy toward Cuba is outdated. So, too, are the calculations that made such a policy politically attractive.
Catering to rich anti-Castro Cuban Americans is no longer a ticket to electoral success.
Ana Perez, a Salvadoran American, is the Cuba program director at Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org), a human-rights group based in San Francisco. She can be reached at email@example.com.