- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

Today he Bush administration’s new measures go into effect, aimed at stemming the flow of hard currency to Cuba and hastening the end of Fidel Castro’s rule.

Announced last month, these measures prohibit Cuban-Americans from visiting family members in Cuba more than once every three years, reduce the U.S. dollars they can spend during their visits, and limit remittances to immediate relatives, excluding aunts, uncles, and cousins formerly on the list of recipients. The White House also said it would intensify propaganda broadcasts and increase financial support of anti-Castro groups in Cuba.

These new provisions will have limited impact on the Cuban economy as Cuban-Americans may circumvent restrictions by traveling to the island through third countries and delivering remittances, as they always did, through “mules” or other informal mechanisms. Ironically, the provisions also play into the hands of the Cuban government, strengthening rather than weakening its hold over the island nation.

As a doctoral candidate researching Cuba, I just returned from a seven-week visit to the island. During my stay, I witnessed the Cuban reaction to Mr. Bush’s new provisions and got a firsthand perception of how U.S. policy is playing out: simply put, not as Mr. Bush intended.

Washington’s restrictions against Cuban-Americans follow the Cuban government’s recent decision to waive entry visa requirements for Cubans residing abroad. Thus, a recurrent message on Cuba’s state-run media is that Mr. Castro is making it easier for Cuban exiles to visit relatives in the island while Mr. Bush is making it more difficult.

Additionally, the Castro government has claimed for a long time that U.S. policy toward Cuba is dictated by a powerful group of Cuban-American hard-liners who fled the island in the early years of the revolution and do not represent the larger exile community. While these Cuban-Americans, for the most part, have little interest in promoting family ties as they have no relatives in Cuba, increasing popular sentiment in Miami against Mr. Bush’s new restrictions, widely emphasized on Cuban television, substantiates Mr. Castro’s claim U.S. policy is driven by a minority of exiles.

The latest provisions U.S. against Cuba provided cover for the Castro government’s decision to raise prices in state-owned dollar stores, which capture most hard currency Cubans receive from abroad. Havana’s authorities said publicly that the action was needed to partly compensate for Cuba’s spending for food, fuel and maritime transportation in the last two years.

However, they blamed U.S. policy, more than anything else, for the price increases. The reality is Mr. Bush’s behavior made it easier for Mr. Castro to justify a price jump already on its way. Higher prices in dollar stores — blamed on Mr. Bush — will also help compensate the Cuban government for an eventual decline of U.S. financial flows reaching Cuba.

Mr. Castro invariably defends his intolerance of internal opposition by labeling political dissidents as “mercenaries” on the payroll of the U.S. government. This is why many of the dissidents keep telling U.S. officials it is counterproductive to try to stimulate major changes in Cuba solely with money.

The announcement the White House would increase financial support of dissident groups in the island will raise the likelihood of further crackdowns on internal dissent in the name of a larger threat from an external enemy.

Finally, Cuban authorities have repeatedly warned the population the United States might be planning an invasion of Cuba after U.S. troops intervened in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. Despite Washington’s denials, Mr. Bush’s decision to deploy a C-130 military plane to beam television signals into Cuba has been interpreted by Cuban officials as an attempt to provoke an incident with the Castro government, which the White House could use as a pretext for military intervention.

In short, rather than significantly affecting the Cuban economy, the latest package of U.S. restrictions on Cuba will simply raise costs for Cuban-Americans who will traveling to the island at higher prices through third countries and pay higher commissions to “mules” because of the higher risk of carrying illegal remittances.

As for Mr. Castro, U.S. measures will achieve exactly the opposite of what they are aiming for. Fidel’s grip on power will be strengthened by allowing him to justify increasing political control and economic centralization as the U.S. steps up efforts to squeeze the island’s economy and end its socialist system.

PAOLO SPADONI

Mr. Spadoni is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Florida. He has visited Cuba five times, researching foreign investment there, U.S. sanctions, and U.S. financial flows in the Cuban economy.

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