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Washington lobbyists line up to scorn both U.S. and Cuba
CubaNews / June 2003

By Larry Luxner

Besides the usual left-leaning critics of U.S. policy on Cuba, three mainstream organizations — the Center for National Policy, Amnesty International USA and the National Foreign Trade Council — are adding their own fuel to the fire. But this time, the criticism is tempered with equally harsh words for the Castro regime.

On May 16, eight members of the CNP’s Cuba Advisory Group wrote letters to both governments following Havana’s crackdown on dissidents and Washington’s subsequent diplomatic expulsions.

“The Cuban people, including political dissidents, benefit from contact with Americans, and contact with Cuba serves American interests. It will be a loss for both Cubans and Americans if Americans are prevented from sharing their values with the Cuban people,” stated James R. Jones, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and now chairman of the Cuba Policy Advisory Group.

Also signing the letters were fellow group members William Frenzel, Harriet Fulbright, Peter Magowan, Elizabeth Newhouse, Ann W. Richards, Alexander F. Watson and Thomas Wenski.

In January, the CNP issued a report calling for a new policy approach of “principled engagement” with Cuba (see CubaNews, February 2003, page 2). Those recommendations focused on a process of negotiation that would include some unilateral U.S. steps to ease travel and trade, but also sought multilateral advocacy for human rights and democratic pluralism in Cuba.

CNP President Maureen Steinbruner told CubaNews that Washington’s expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats was a serious mistake.

“We feel that a much better way to go is to stop the unilateral effort to intervene, and begin a negotiated process of normalization with the Cuban government,” she said.

On May 19 — three days after the CNP letter was publicized — William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, wrote to President Bush, urging him to “announce forward-looking policies that will respect the needs of the Cuban people” while pressuring the Castro regime to improve its “severely deteriorated” human rights record.

In his 1,300-word letter to the White House, Schulz wrote that Amnesty International believes Cuba now holds 90 “prisoners of conscience,” up from only six in February 2002.

“We strongly urge that any review of policy options by your administration be based on a careful weighing of potential risks to the safety and human rights of Cuban citizens, and that the choosing of a policy response be firmly grounded in respect for human rights standards,” he wrote.

“Cuba bears the ultimate responsibility for the treatment of its citizens, but the U.S. also has a responsibility to pursue a foreign policy that promotes human rights and avoids contributing to a worsening of the human rights situation and humanitarian conditions on the island,” wrote Schulz. “AI rejects any proposals that would contribute to a worsening of humanitarian conditions in Cuba, and urges the U.S. not to take measures that could prompt any migration crisis that would put people’s lives at risk.”

In his letter, Schulz suggested several specific policy moves the White House could take to show that it’s serious about human rights in Cuba. Among them: * allowing U.S.-based NGOs to use their own resources to assist and support dissidents, rather than providing that assistance through the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. * building a broader and more effective coalition with European and Latin American nations by patiently working with those countries to promote a consistent message from the international community, rather than pursuing punitive policies against potential allies like Helms-Burton that do little to promote human rights in Cuba. * immediately implementing model conditions for the five Cubans convicted of spying against the United States and currently being held in a Miami jail. This should include easy access to lawyers, visits from families for all prisoners and detention conditions that “in every way meet international standards.”

Meanwhile, the National Foreign Trade Council, which opposes economic sanctions of any kind, has come out against new regulations designed to further restrict travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced Mar. 24 that it would no longer issue permits for so-called “people-to-people” educational trips to Cuba — thereby eliminating the entire category of licensed travel by U.S. citizens to the island for educational activities that don’t involve study directly pursuant to undergraduate or graduate degree programs.

“Limiting travel to Cuba to only those enrolled in a graduate or undergraduate degree course at the accredited U.S. academic institution, the amendments neglect an entire segment of parties interested in traveling to Cuba to strengthen understanding between the two countries,” warned NFTC President Bill Reinsch.

“We oppose these changes because direct contact between U.S. and Cuban citizens will be severely limited, further isolating the Cuban people and threatening prospects for democratic reform.”

The NFTC says some of the nation’s most prestigious cultural institutions are currently licensed to conduct educational programs in Cuba, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Ameri-can Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the City of New York. All of these programs will be axed if the proposed OFAC regulations are adopted.

In addition, the new rules deny licenses to companies that specialize in organizing educational travel programs designed to export American values and institutions. These companies include the Ambassador Group, founded during the Eisenhower administration to promote people-to-people programs abroad.

“The members of these institutions include Americans who are most likely to present a favorable view of our country to Cubans,” said Reinsch. “The NFTC strongly urges the Bush administration to reinstate the people-to-people category and allow the free flow of ideas to be exchanged by our most valuable ambassadors of freedom, American citizens.”

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