June 23, 2004
President Bush's new Cuba policy is cruel, ineffective and politically risky. As a Cuban-American I am outraged by its sheer heartlessness. By tightening restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans visiting family on the island, the administration is splitting family ties that run deeper than any hatred of the Castro government. And the strategy will likely fail in its real purpose: winning Cuban-American votes in November.
The new regulations, which take effect on June 30, make two major changes that adversely affect the Cuban-American community.
First, they redefine the family. Cuban-Americans are now allowed to visit or send money only to parents, siblings, grandparents and children. This strikes deeply at the Cuban notion of family, which also includes cousins, aunts, uncles and close family friends.
Second, the regulations will let Cuban-Americans visit only once every three years. There will be no exceptions for extreme circumstances, such as a life-threatening illness or death.
"An individual can decide when they want to travel once every three years, and the decision is up to them," Daniel Fisk, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department, recently told Reuters. "So if they have a dying relative they have to figure out when they want to travel."
This is misguided, inhumane, and anti-family in the extreme.
The administration's rationale is simple: The money that flows to Cuba from the United States must be choked off in order to bring down the Castro government. Hardliners still see this as the best way to effect change in Cuba. But this has been the policy for more than 40 years. Why will it work now when it never has before?
The underhanded motive behind these new rules is also simple: to get votes in Florida. A vocal minority in South Florida has been clamoring for the past three years for a tightening of the embargo, and President Bush is responding directly to them.
But the Cuban-American community has been changing as of late. The community now has a majority of people who left the island after 1980 and still have family in Cuba. And like many Latin American immigrants, these more recent emigres support families that are still there with cash and visits.
The powerful minority of early exiles tends to have fewer family members left on the island than the more recent arrivals. They are also driven by a deep hatred of Castro, and they have the ear of the administration. Because of their self-described key role in delivering the votes of their community in the presidential election of 2000, these new regulations are political payback.
But by listening to these hardliners, the administration may have pushed beyond what the majority of the community will accept.
When the policies take effect on June 30 -- and the government begins to restrict travel -- the outcry from moderate Cuban Americans is likely to be enormous.
Protests have already been mounting, and a letter-writing campaign has generated thousands of letters to the State Department. Many of these people voted for Bush in 2000. But they will be loath to vote for an administration whose policy further separates them from their families.
Bush's harsh new Cuba policy may boomerang.
Silvia Wilhelm left Cuba in 1961 as part of "Operation Peter Pan," which evacuated children to the United States. She now runs Puentes Cubanos, an organization dedicated to reconciliation between Cuban-Americans and the Cuban people. She can be reached at email@example.com.