- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

Leading lawmakers from both parties began a new attempt to bring democracy to Cuba with legislation to provide $100 million in U.S. aid to Cuban dissidents over the next four years.
Sens. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, introduced a bill that would authorize an aggressive campaign to get food, money, medicine and communications equipment directly to groups and individuals that operate independent of the communist regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro.
"We can undermine Castros isolation and oppression of the Cuban people by finding bold, proactive and creative programs to help those working for change on the island," said Mr. Helms, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
If the legislation becomes law, it would be the first time the United States government has funded a program to send direct help to Mr. Castros political opposition on the island.
Those eligible for U.S. aid would include political dissidents, the families of dissidents held in jail, independent journalists and members of religious groups.
Called the "Cuban Solidarity Act," the legislation is modeled after a Reagan administration policy that sent clandestine aid to Polish dissidents in the 1980s a policy many credit with helping to bring about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
"I have always believed that American foreign policy is best when it is based on values and there is no more fundamental value than freedom," said Mr. Lieberman. "[In Cuba] freedom is compromised to the point of extinction."
The bill has 11 co-sponsors in the Senate. A companion bill, to be introduced by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, in the House, has 95 co-sponsors.
Mr. Lieberman said he expects the bill to receive broad bipartisan support, even among members who support the lifting of the 37-year-old U.S. economic embargo on Cuba.
The bill is opposed by Mr. Liebermans colleague, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.
"Wasting taxpayer dollars on monies that Fidel Castro will make sure never get into the hands of average Cubans when we could be doing something truly meaningful to foster democracy is unfortunate," said Mr. Dodd in a statement.
"Fidel Castro is a tyrant and despot. No ones arguing that point. But thats not the issue. The issue is how to best help the Cuban people, and ultimately foster Democracy in Cuba, and the best way to do that is to end the embargo and the travel ban."
Other critics of direct aid to the political opposition in Cuba fear that it will make the recipients targets of the Castro regime.
Teo Babun, a director of the Protestant charity Echo Cuba, which sent $400,000 in aid to Cuba last year, said he understood the motive behind the legislation, but called it "misguided."
"It will immediately endanger all the other aid that is already being sent to Cuba by Catholics in Caritas and Protestants and other faith-based NGOs, which is getting in and is building a civil society," Mr. Babun said. "It is inconceivable that the Cuban government will allow computers, faxes and telephones."
Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which supports the legislation, disagreed.
"They are being arrested anyway, with or without the aid," he said. Asked how he thinks the U.S. aid might bypass the Cuban governments security apparatus to reach the dissidents, Mr. Mas said that his organization has been sending cash and telecommunications equipment to dissidents for the past three years.
He would not specify a dollar amount that CANF had funneled to Mr. Castros political opposition, but said it was "in the millions."
"It is as simple as going down to the Western Union," he said, adding that some of the dissidents who took CANF aid have been persecuted and jailed. It is estimated that Cuban-Americans sent an estimated $800 million a year to their families on the island. To facilitate the transfers Western Union has opened offices throughout the island.
Mr. Mas said that, based on CANF discussions with the State Department and the National Security Council, he expects the presidents support.
"This is in line with what the Bush administration has proposed," on Cuba, he said.
Dennis Hays, the director of the CANF Washington office said that dissidents who fear arrest for accepting U.S. aid do not have to take it.
"No one is forcing anyone to take the money," he said.
The bill also calls on President Bush to instruct Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate and bring to justice those involved in the February 1996 shooting down of two airplanes operated by the Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue, which killed three Americans.

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