[ “… the Treasury Department, which enforces economic sanctions, is already spending an inordinate amount of time on Cuba… Of the 120 employees at the Office of Foreign Assets Control … 21 are dedicated to enforcing the Cuba embargo and only 4 to tracking the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.” –BL ]
Bush Proposes a Plan to Aid Opponents of Castro in Cuba
by CHRISTOPHER MARQUIS
WASHINGTON, May 6 – President Bush announced a plan on Thursday to use military aircraft to help American broadcasters reach Cuba and to increase sharply the money for Cuban critics of the government of President Fidel Castro.
In a White House ceremony to mark his receipt of a nearly 500-page report on Cuba by a presidential commission, Mr. Bush said his actions would help hasten an end to the Castro government, which has held power for 45 years.
The measures, which include further restrictions on travel and cash transfers to Cuba, were embraced by Republican Cuban-American lawmakers and other adherents of a hard-line position toward Havana, and they were expected to be viewed as provocative by Mr. Castro.
But the moves ran into a wall of criticism by Democrats and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, mostly from farm states, who are seeking to take the policy in the opposite direction. Over the administration’s objections, Congress has steadily sought to increase travel and trade with Cuba in recent years.
Representative Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the lone Cuban-American Democrat in Congress, accused Mr. Bush of pandering to Cuban exiles in South Florida, who White House advisers have acknowledged are central to Mr. Bush’s re-election strategy.
“The need and timing of a White House Cuba Commission and its release of a report today is highly dubious and politically transparent,” Mr. Menendez said.
Other critics questioned the plan’s expense. Officials said the administration would cover the costs by taking up to $59 million from other foreign spending accounts.
Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and the ranking member of the Finance Committee, said the new plan amounted to a misuse of taxpayer money.
“At a time when the United States faces very real terrorist threats in the Middle East and elsewhere, the administration’s absurd and increasingly bizarre obsession with Cuba is more than just a shame, it’s a dangerous diversion from reality,” Mr. Baucus said.
The president declined a proposal to cut the payments that Cuban Americans send to relatives in Cuba, ending an internal squabble within the commission, officials said. Proponents of cutting or freezing remittances, which have been valued by the United Nations at more than $800 million a year, said it would deprive the Castro government of cash, but opponents said it would hurt the most vulnerable people in Cuba.
The president’s plan calls for more closely supervising the cash transfers and limiting them to direct family members who are not Communist Party officials. He also called for scaling back family visits from once a year to once every three years, and cutting back on educational travel to curtail what officials say is disguised tourism.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, praised Mr. Bush for striking a balance between humanitarian impulses and the desire to keep cash from reaching Mr. Castro.
“Closer scrutiny of remittance regulations and travel permits will help to ensure the Castro regime does not plunder the Cuban-American exile community’s hard work and contributions to their family members suffering in the island,” she said.
But critics countered that the Treasury Department, which enforces economic sanctions, is already spending an inordinate amount of time on Cuba, largely in response to domestic political pressure. Of the 120 employees at the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Senator Baucus said, 21 are dedicated to enforcing the Cuba embargo and only 4 to tracking the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Administration officials said the best-financed part of the program would be to provide $36 million for Cuban dissidents, youth groups and others, most likely in materials, not cash, delivered through third parties.
Roger F. Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, predicted that more dissidents would risk their freedom in coming months and years, despite a crackdown last year by Mr. Castro that sent about 75 prominent critics to jail, many for allegedly conspiring with the United States.
Mr. Bush approved spending up to $18 million to use a specially equipped plane to broadcast the Spanish-language government TV station, and its radio partner, to Cuba. The plane, an EC-130 known as Commando Solo, has been used in psychological operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Panama and may be able to overcome Cuban jamming as it flies in international waters near the island. TV Marti has been effectively jammed since it was set up in 1990.