- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday introduced legislation on Capitol Hill to lift the travel ban on Cuba and permit Americans to “flood” the communist regime of Fidel Castro.

The “Export Freedom to Cuba Act,” is designed to punish the Cuban regime for 40 years of brutality toward its own people and the recent crackdown on political dissent.

“If you want to bring the winds of change and democratic values to Cuba, our best ambassadors are Americans, traveling by the hundreds of thousands to Cuba,” said Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat, a sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, another sponsor, agreed.

“Right now Castro has complete control over what Cubans hear and who they meet,” he said. “By flooding the island with Americans, bringing with them American ideals, Castro’s stranglehold on the country will be greatly lessened and Cubans will be exposed to the freedoms they’ve been denied,” he said.

While the bill is sponsored by more than 50 members of the House from both parties, and a similar bill is sponsored by 10 members of the Senate, it has no backing from the House Republican leadership. The Bush administration has promised it will veto any legislation that eases economic or travel sanctions against Cuba.

The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the largest and most powerful Cuban-American exile organization, said yesterday it opposes the proposal.

“I believe the congressmen are sincere in wanting to promote change in Cuba, but they are continuing down the path that will only strengthen the regime,” said Dennis Hays, director of the Washington office of CANF.

Frank Calzon, director of the Center for a Free Cuba, said the legislation encourages “tourist apartheid” on the island.

“These are segregated facilities. Cubans are not allowed to go to those hotels, or visit those beaches,” he said.

Mr. Calzon said that while members of Congress who want to lift the travel ban and the economic embargo travel freely to Cuba, U.S. lawmakers known for their tough stand on human rights, including Republican Reps. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey and Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, are denied visas to visit.

In April, the Cuban government carried out a massive crackdown on political dissent on the island. More than 75 dissidents were arrested, and many were sentenced to more than 25 years in the Cuban gulag. In the crackdown, three black Cubans were executed after they tried to escape the island in a failed ferry hijacking.

Yesterday, two of Cuba’s leading dissidents, Elizardo Sanchez and Vladimir Roca, expressed their “full support” for the legislation.

“Just as we insist on the right of Cubans to travel, to leave and return to our country freely, a right now denied us, so too do we support the right of Americans to travel freely, including travel to Cuba,” they said from Havana, in a statement released by the Center for International Policy.

Tuesday, the Bush administration announced that it was expelling 14 Cuban diplomats from New York and Washington for spying, and the State Department expressed its displeasure with Cuba over the recent crackdown.

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