From the Presbyterian Washington Office
Global Security Quarterly
Bush Administration Tightens Embargo on Cuba
July 2004: In December
2003, President Bush named an advisory body, the Commission for Assistance
to a Free Cuba, to review U.S. policy toward Cuba and identify additional
steps "by which the United States can help the Cuban people bring about an
expeditious end to the Castro dictatorship." [note
1] On May 6th of this
year the Bush Administration announced its intention to adopt the
recommendations of the Commission, which include a significant tightening of
the U.S. embargo against Cuba -- with numerous new restrictions on U.S.
citizens' rights -- which will have a particularly negative impact on many
In response to these actions, the 216th General Assembly
called on the U.S. government to reject these new inhumane restrictions that
cause undo hardship on ordinary Cuban citizens and restrict the rights of
Americans. Many feel that these policies, in addition to harming Cuban
Americans and their families, are sacrificing any possibility for a warming
of relations with Cuba in order to make short-term domestic political gains.
The violations of human rights in Cuba can be solved
through a U.S. government policy of engagement and criticism. This country
has no reason to feel threatened by Cuba and should work to resolve the
conflict through diplomatic and political means.
The New Policy
The Commission Report's first chapter is the most
disturbing. Entitled "Hastening Cuba's Transition," it states that the
Commission sought "a more proactive, integrated and disciplined approach to
undermine the survival strategies of the Castro regime and contribute to
conditions that will help the Cuban people hasten the dictatorship's end."
To accomplish this goal, the administration is adopting
policies to work with Cuban dissidents and other anti-Castro sectors in
Cuba, distributing information and U.S.-funded media in Cuba, cutting off
financial resources to the Cuban government (by restricting Cuban-American
travel), and internationalizing the embargo by carrying out international
public education campaigns about Cuba.
The Commission calls for a $29-million increase in support
for Cuban dissidents and anti-Castro NGOs in the United States and other
countries. Many dissidents, however, are critical of this new policy. The
wife of a prominent dissident criticized it recently in an article at
salon.com: "Did the Bush administration ask for the opinion of internal
dissidents when the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba crafted it
report? No. Will the measures hurt Castro's regime? No. Instead, the Cuban
people will suffer from the measures." 3
In order to distribute more information -- as well as
U.S.-funded media in Cuba -- the Commission recommended that the U.S.
overcome the Cuban jamming of Radio Marti's signal. (Radio and TV Marti are
the principal U.S.-media vehicles, which were started in 1985. Their signals
are frequently jammed.) The Commission called for the U.S. to send a special
aircraft to circle the Cuban coast and broadcast radio and television
signals, and for the Bush Administration to spend $18 million on an aircraft
for the Office of Cuban Broadcasting.
The measures to cut off resources to the Cuban government
are the most drastic and cause the most hardship for Cuban families living
in the U.S. and Cuba. In an effort to destabilize the Cuban economy the
•• Tightening the enforcement of travel restrictions by
•• Further restricting educational travel.
•• Eliminating the category of "fully hosted travel" - a
category which many business groups have used to explore Cuba. (Visitors
could travel to Cuba and have their expenses paid by the hosts in Cuba.)
•• Tightening minor provisions (including eliminating the
$100 worth of goods visitors can bring back from Cuba, eliminating permits
to athletes to participate in sporting events, and making it more difficult
for private boats to visit Cuba).
•• Funneling money to groups in third countries to run
campaigns to discourage tourism to Cuba.
•• Limiting travel by Cuban Americans to once every three
years. The limit now is once per year.
•• Ending the general license for periodic Cuban-American
travel. A visa would be issued for each trip.
•• Narrowing the definition of family, and issuing visas
only for visits to immediate family members.
•• Limiting Cuban-American donations to relatives in Cuba
by putting a weight limit on luggage and limiting what can be sent in gift
packages. Clothing, deodorant, and seeds would be banned.
•• Limiting the length of stay of family visits to 14 days
and the amount that Cuban Americans can spend per day.
•• Limiting the amount of money that can be sent to family
members in Cuba and to whom the money can be sent. The total amount a person
can carry to family members in Cuba is reduced from $3000 to $300.
In order to further isolate Cuba and internationalize the
embargo the Commission also called for $5 million to be spent to persuade
governments of third countries to adopt the U.S. policy of embargo.
Many in the Cuban-American community are distressed by
these new measures and the strain they cause on their families in Cuba.
While the administration was hoping that these measures would rally support
among traditionally Republican Cuban Americans, it may have created a
backlash. Most embargo supporters are those who fled to the United States
from Cuba immediately after the revolution -- they no longer have family on
the island. It is this population that has been pressuring the Bush
Administration to take more drastic steps, as they no longer have family on
the island that the measures would affect. A recent poll found that more
that 68 percent of Cuban Americans that arrived in the U.S. after 1985 --
many of whom still have family in Cuba -- support unrestricted travel there.
On June 9th, in reaction to this new policy, the House of
Representatives voted to block the Bush Administration from enforcing some
of the new regulations. On an amendment to the Commerce-Justice-State
appropriations bill, the House voted 221--194 to reject funding for the
Commerce Department's sections of the new Cuba restrictions. The regulations
under this department include limiting the amount of luggage travelers can
carry to Cuba (to 44 pounds) and limiting the items that Cuban Americans can
send in gift packages to their relatives. It is largely a symbolic gesture
but still important. The Senate has not taken up this issue and it may be
taken out during conference on the bill. Last year both the Senate and House
voted to lift the travel ban to Cuba, but it was taken out of the bill by
Republican leadership during conference.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the
Treasury Department is the agency in charge of enforcing the embargo on
Cuba. They have issued these new rules in "interim" form, with the final
version of the rules to be made publicly available by September 14. OFAC is
currently accepting comments (until August 16) that will be considered in
the development of final regulations. Though it is unlikely that the current
regulations will be changed, it is important that they hear the objections
to these new rules. Please send comments to
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The 216th General
Assembly (2004) called upon the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of
the U.S. Treasury Department to rescind new regulations published in the
June 16, 2004, Federal Register and permit travel to Cuba.
Whereas, United States' efforts to bring about political
change in Cuba through punitive economic sanctions have largely failed and
resulted in both hardship for the Cuban people and resentment among numerous
friendly governments around the world; and
Whereas, calls by
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to lift the U.S. embargo and normalize
relations over the years (1969, 1972, 1977, 1982, 1990, 1993) have gone
unheeded; therefore, be it* resolved, that the General Assembly do the
•• Renew the call upon the United States government to
initiate negotiations with the Cuban government toward the end of
reestablishing full diplomatic relations.
•• Renew the call on the United States government to end
the economic sanctions that it has imposed on Cuba, and to respect the
opinion of the world community in this matter.
•• Call upon the United States to encourage economic
investment in Cuba for assisting the Cuban people's efforts to build a just
society, and to do so in ways that respect the dignity of the Cuban people
and their right to self-government.
•• Encourage presbyteries and Presbyterians to seek to be
peacemakers by building relations with Cuba through visits, church-to-church
exchanges, provision of humanitarian needs, study, and advocacy of positions
recommended by the General Assembly. (Minutes, 1997, Part I, pp.
1. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Report to
the President. May 2004, p. 7.
[Note: This document is 458 pages in pdf format.
So be prepared for a looong download.]
3. Whose Country Is It Anyway? http://www.salon.com,
May 24, 2004 (cited in A Critical Analysis of Bush's New Cuba Policy,
Farley and Thale, May 2004.)
4. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Report to
the President. May 2004, pgs. 15-40.
[Note: This document is 458 pages in pdf format.
So be prepared for a looong download.]
5. Concerns Voiced Over Travel Restrictions to Cuba,
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 20, 2004 (taken from A Critical Analysis
of Bush's New Cuba Policy).
-Written by Catherine Gordon
Published by the
Stewardship of Public Life (SPL) advocacy program of the Washington Office,
Presbyterian Church (USA), 110 Maryland Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002,