- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

Cuba policy in fluxFor the first time in 40 years, the United States is ready to ease sanctions against Cuba. A combination of Elian fatigue and a changing political climate has made an eventual opening towards the Caribbean island all but inevitable.Last week, a majority of U.S. lawmakers agreed that restrictions on U.S. food and medicine sales to Cuba, along with Iran, Sudan, Libya and North Korea, should be lifted. Clearly the political will is present, but restrictions included in the current proposal could cause the bill to run into trouble with the president and the Senate.
Cuban-Americans in Congress supported the measure to export food and medicine to Cuba and other countries, but insisted that the bill include a provision which prevents the Cuban government from accessing U.S. private or public financing. Indeed, U.S. taxpayers should not finance exports to a dictatorial regime, but the block on private financing would be counterproductive. Due to Mr. Castro's failure to pay billions of dollars of debt, he would have difficulty finding private capital. This might not be the bonanza some business groups are predicting.
Meanwhile, Mr. Castro has taken the block on financing as another opportunity to blame the United States. And the provision has prompted some lawmakers to oppose the proposal. In addition, a clause requires the president to win congressional approval both before placing food and medical sanctions on other countries and before lifting travel restrictions. These provisions have made the bill less popular.
Cuban-American lawmakers have insisted that the recent agreement is their triumph because of the restrictions on financing, but this is wishful thinking. Traditionally, Cuban-Americans had been politically powerful because many live in the swing state of Florida. They have also earned the respect of many Americans over the years, through their integrity and hard work. But in the wake of the demonstrations protesting the raid on the Gonzalez family's Miami home, Americans have begun to question whether Cuban-Americans can provide the moral compass to U.S. Cuba policy.
This is unfortunate, since Cuban-Americans remain the best source of insight on Cuban idiosyncrasies. They are in constant contact with relatives in Cuba and well-informed about shifting power dynamics and the public mood on the island. The time has come for some easing of sanctions on Cuba. However, Cuban-Americans must continue to contribute to the debate.

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