- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

A new Republican-led advocacy group in Washington says it will lobby to lift the 37-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba and hopes to supplant the influence of the pro-embargo Cuban American National Foundation.

"The main focus of the group will be to look at U.S.-Cuba policy again," Sally Grooms Cowal, president of the Cuba Policy Foundation (CPF), said yesterday. "In 40 years, the embargo has not served to bring about democracy in Cuba. It is a failed policy."

Ms. Grooms Cowal, formerly a career diplomat, is president of the lobby.

William Rogers, assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs in the Ford administration, is chairman.

The group is funded by the Arca Foundation, a philanthropic organization headed by Democratic fund-raiser and heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, Smith Bagley.

None of the three is Cuban-American.

Ms. Grooms Cowal said CPF will argue that Americans are losing millions of dollars in trade by maintaining an ineffective embargo.

She said the group's ideological impetus grew out of the recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations, which made arguments for and against lifting the embargo.

CPF's inaugural press releases do not mention Cuba's abysmal human rights record, but Ms. Grooms Cowal said her group would not be "an apologist for the regime."

Ms. Grooms Cowal, who was a U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, said CFP would support a denunciation of Cuba's human rights record by the international body, which is meeting in Geneva.

"I would support an examination of Cuba's record and a condemnation in Geneva," she said.

Opposition leaders in Cuba are reporting a crackdown on dissidents. In one incident, reported last week by Cuba's best-known dissident, Elizardo Sanchez, Cuban state security beat a blind dissident and then dumped him in the countryside.

Ms. Grooms Cowal said the embargo policy should be re-examined through dialogue and has challenged Jorge Mas, president of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), to a series of debates.

She said she hoped to convince Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush's nominee for assistant secretary of state Inter-American affairs, Otto Reich, to accept her view.

Messrs. Mas, Powell and Reich all have made public statements backing the embargo.

"Other people have become converts. I hope to be able to talk with them," she said.

Dennis Hays, an ambassador in the Clinton administration who now heads the pro-embargo CANF Washington office, said Mr. Mas has no plans to accept Ms. Grooms Cowal's offer to debate.

"There is no reason to debate. But, I am on a panel with Sally next month in Miami," said Mr. Hays. "It is a small circle of people who think about Cuba. We all know each other. We will run into each other. I can't imagine what new this new group will bring to the debate."

While touting their "centrist," "nonpartisan" and "Republican" credentials, Mr. Hays said, the CPF is none of the above in regard to its personnel, funding and agenda.

"I was an ambassador under a Democratic administration. That doesn't make me a Democrat," he said. "Arca is a very partisan group that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get the embargo lifted, and they have failed miserably."

Arca Foundation records say it has spent more than $3 million since 1995 in its unsuccessful effort to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

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