- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

The White House yesterday dismissed former President Jimmy Carter's call to end the trade embargo against Cuba, calling such a move pointless when dealing with "one of the last great tyrants left on Earth."

"The president believes that the trade embargo is a vital part of America's foreign policy and human rights policy toward Cuba, because trade with Cuba does not benefit the people of Cuba it's used to prop up a repressive regime," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Ending the 43-year-old embargo against Cuba "only gives money to the government" of Fidel Castro, whom Mr. Fleischer called "one of the last great tyrants left on Earth."

Despite Mr. Carter's five-day, conciliatory visit to the island in which the former president called on Congress to permit unrestricted travel between the United States and Cuba, establish open trading relationships and repeal the embargo Mr. Bush will deliver a stern message to Mr. Castro during a visit to Miami on Monday.

Mr. Bush will endorse increased enforcement of the travel restriction and propose additional aid to dissident groups, White House aides said.

In addition, the president will make his case for keeping in place the trade embargo, which a bipartisan group of lawmakers said yesterday has had no effect.

"The embargo has failed to produce any meaningful political or economic change in Cuba," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

"For over 40 years, our policy toward Cuba has yielded no results. Castro hasn't held free and fair elections. He hasn't improved human rights, and he hasn't stopped preaching his hate for democracy and the U.S.

"Travel is a fundamental right for every American. It is great President Carter has been in Cuba over the past week; but the fact is, all Americans should be able to travel and to have that right," Mr. Flake said.

The group calling itself the Cuba Working Group urged the White House to soften its stance and engage Cuba's next generation.

"President Bush, let our people go, tear down that wall and increase the prospects for democracy in Cuba," said Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, said, "Embargoes are the worst tools of foreign policy we could possibly have."

But Bush aides said there is no chance Mr. Bush will end the embargo without serious and prolonged efforts by Cuba to move toward democracy.

The president, they said, gave a preview of his Monday speech earlier this week when he said, "My message to the Cuban people is: 'Demand freedom, and you've got a president who stands with you.'"

Asked on Tuesday whether the Carter trip has any effect on his stance toward Cuba, Mr. Bush said: "It doesn't complicate my foreign policy, because I haven't changed my foreign policy. And that is, Fidel Castro is a dictator, and he is oppressive, and he ought to have free elections, and he ought to have a free press, and he ought to free his prisoners, and he ought to encourage free enterprise."

While the White House dismissed Mr. Carter's call for ending the embargo, Mr. Fleischer welcomed the former president's call for a referendum on political reforms.

"He did talk about human rights in Cuba. He said some things that Cuban people have not heard before about their rights, about their freedom in Cuba, and that's helpful and positive," Mr. Fleischer said.

The Cuban Communist Party daily Granma yesterday published excerpts from Mr. Carter's speech, which included his call to end the embargo and excluded his endorsement of the democracy referendum. There was no other official Cuban reaction to the speech.

Mr. Carter yesterday, in what his aides said would be the last public event of his trip, took to the pulpit of a Havana Baptist church to speak of the power of God, another taboo subject on the communist island.

The former president, a deacon and longtime Sunday school teacher at his home church in Georgia, said he had been blessed by serving as president, by having been married for 56 years, having four children and 11 grandchildren.

"But the most important thing in my life is my faith in Jesus Christ," he said.

Mr. Carter's talk during an enthusiastic service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church followed an hourlong meeting with more than 40 Protestant clergymen from 22 denominations. Aides said Mr. Carter will conduct private pursuits today and leave Cuba tomorrow.

Nevertheless, some on Capitol Hill criticized Mr. Carter's trip as propping up Cuba's government.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said Mr. Carter has "become a dupe for Fidel Castro and his totalitarian regime."

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who along with other congressional leaders met with Mr. Bush yesterday morning, praised Mr. Carter for his visit and said the United States and Cuba "must tear down the barriers that do exist."

Democrats accuse Mr. Bush, who has aggressively courted Hispanics, of playing politics to win the support of Cuban Americans, most of whom oppose Mr. Castro.

The Cuba Working Group proposed a nine-point plan that calls for repealing a travel ban, allowing unsubsidized exports of agricultural and medical products, communicating with Cubans through scholarships instead of television and Radio Marti, cooperating on hemispheric security and environmental protection, and settling property claims.

Rep. George Nethercutt, Washington Republican, said the government needs consistent policies in trade practices.

"My question is, if Iraq, why not Cuba? If China, why not Cuba?" Mr. Nethercutt said.

Still, the group quickly fell into political squabbling.

"This is not about foreign policy. We are talking about Florida politics," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat. Mr. Bush won the presidency when the U.S. Supreme Court halted recounts in the state after the 2000 election.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican who was born in Havana, said it is "inconceivable" that members of Congress would propose becoming business partners "with a terrorist dictatorship."

"Instead of working to provide dollars for a terrorist state, these members of Congress should be supporting President Bush's policy of insistence upon freedom for all political prisoners and free elections in Cuba before U.S. financing and tourism dollars are made available to the Cuban dictatorship," Mr. Diaz-Balart said.

•This article is based in part on wire-service reports.


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