- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

The Washington-based Cuba Policy Foundation closed down this week, claiming that Fidel Castro's latest crackdown on dissent had ruined its campaign to improve relations between the United States and the communist-ruled island.
"All of us are appalled at the recent executions and jailings in Cuba," it said in a statement.
"The regime's sudden wholesale repression of human rights is incomprehensible as a matter of policy, and unacceptable as a matter of principle. … Daily operations of the foundation will cease as of this date," it said on Wednesday.
Since March, nearly 80 opposition figures have been arrested, many of whom have since been sentenced to 20 to 28 years in prison.
Earlier this month, Cuba further inflamed its supporters by executing three men for hijacking a ferry in a bid to reach the United States.
On Wednesday, the Cuba Policy Foundation's (CPF) entire board of directors resigned.
"This was explosive sabotage by Castro on U.S. efforts to ease sanctions," CPF Executive Director Brian Alexander said of Cuba's crackdown.
"It is clear that Fidel Castro is not interested in improved relations with the United States. You never know what bomb he is going to throw over the fence," Mr. Alexander said.
The high-profile lobbying group was formed to promote engagement with the communist island after the saga of 6-year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez, who was forcibly returned to Cuba by the Clinton administration.
The group had lobbied for legislation to ease travel restrictions to Cuba and to ease the U.S. economic embargo.
It had also taken members of Congress and their staffs to Cuba on fact-finding tours to meet both government officials and dissidents.
Mr. Alexander said it was particularly appalling that those congressional trips to Cuba were used as evidence by Mr. Castro's government to convict writers, journalists and other dissidents to lengthy prison terms.
"All of those people on Capitol Hill can now say they know someone who is a political prisoner. That makes it personal," Mr. Alexander said. "Castro appears to be on a rampage. You will see no significant change on the island or improvement in relations until Castro's death."
"This is another case of well-meaning people being stabbed in the back by Castro," said Dennis Hayes, Washington director of the Cuban American National Foundation. "Castro is the problem and anyone who tries to make him part of the solution is doomed to disappointment."
The CPF is the latest group to condemn the ongoing crackdown in Cuba.
The Bush administration has been vociferous in its denunciations, which have been echoed by European Union diplomats, journalists and human rights organizations.
Nicaragua had proposed calling Cuba to task in the Organization of American States for violating its citizens' human rights.
Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who had traveled to Cuba to promote sales of Iowa farm products, ended a visit to Havana yesterday by calling on Mr. Castro to release jailed dissidents.
CPF's best-known board member was Sally Grooms Cowal, a former ambassador to Trinidad, who helped found the group after a high-profile campaign to have Elian returned to Cuba.
During the battle over Elian three years ago, Ms. Grooms Cowal was the head of Youth for Understanding, a student-exchange organization that provided a guest house in Northwest Washington to Elian and his father, who had come from Cuba to take back his son. The two stayed at the house for six weeks before returning to Cuba.

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