- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez yesterday reiterated the Bush administration’s steadfast belief in the U.S. embargo of Cuba, despite congressional moves to relax the policy.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s hospitalization last year and ceding of power to his brother, Raul, as well as the election of Democratic House and Senate majorities in Congress have helped fuel speculation that U.S. policies could be eased.

Mr. Gutierrez, however, speaking before the Council of the Americas, said the United States must “stand firm” in its rejection of the Castro government and in efforts to deny revenue to the Cuban regime.

The question, he said, is not when U.S. policy will change, but when Cuba will change its policy.

“Years of foreign investment have not improved the lives of average Cubans, only the lives of those who hold power,” he said.

He said foreign companies operating in Cuba must pay the government in dollars for Cuban labor, but the government then pays workers in “devalued pesos” and “pockets the difference.”

Cubans, he said, “simply do not benefit from foreign investment under Castro.”

Mr. Gutierrez also rejected comparing Cuba to China, another communist country but one with which the U.S. maintains trade relations.

China, has pursued economic liberalization, and although that country has not made all the changes the U.S. would like to see, it would be more appropriate to compare Cuba to North Korea, Mr. Gutierrez said.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress to weaken the Cuba embargo, and two House members who are part of that effort criticized the administration’s stance after Mr. Gutierrez’s speech yesterday.

“What the administration fails to understand is that these policies only inhibit trade that is beneficial to American producers, depriving them of what was once among their 25 largest export markets for agricultural goods,” said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican.

Mrs. Emerson, who is co-sponsoring legislation to ease payment requirements on farm exports to Cuba, said the U.S. traded with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and has given most-favored-nation trade status to China, which she described as “the single largest owner of the U.S. trade deficit.”

“After 48 years, sanctions have yet to effect political change in Cuba. It is time to try something new,” she said.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who introduced a bill last month to lift the ban on American travel to Cuba, said Cuba is experiencing an “all-too-smooth transition,” adding that for all intents and purposes, that transition has been made, but the United States is “on the sidelines watching and having no influence, and that’s a shame.”

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