Calling sanctions against Fidel Castro’s Cuba “a moral statement,” U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday ordered stricter enforcement of the U.S. trade embargo and greater support to dissidents on the communist island.
Bush also said he was asking the Treasury Department to do more to ensure that American tourism in Cuba, banned by law, is not occurring under the guise of permitted pro-democracy cultural exchanges.
“The sanctions the United States enforces against the Castro regime are not just a policy tool, but a moral statement. It is wrong to prop up a regime that routinely stifles all the freedoms that make us human,” the president said in a written statement.
He said the Treasury should provide more money to its Office of Foreign Assets Control to hire additional personnel to monitor travel to Cuba, trade and the limited amounts of money that Cuban-Americans are allowed to send home to their families. He also promised to increase U.S. aid to Cuba’s pro-democracy dissidents. But he specified no dollar amounts and a spokeswoman for his National Security Council said none was available, making it impossible to gauge their breadth or potential impact.
Bush also named the well-known Miami Spanish-language radio host, Salvador Lew, the new director of Radio and TV Marti. Bush instructed Lew, a longtime member of the U.S. Information Agency’s advisory board for Cuba broadcasting, “to use all available means to overcome the jamming” of America’s pro-democracy radio and TV broadcasts into Cuba.
Just days before he has to make a more difficult choice on Cuba policy, Bush made these announcements on the seventh anniversary of the deaths of 41 refugees whose tugboat was sunk by Cuban gunboats in what Castro says was an accident.
Many analysts and activists expect Bush to decide next week — by a Tuesday deadline — to suspend for six months the Title III provision in the 1996 Helms Burton law that allows any American whose property was seized in Cuba after Castro took power in 1959 to sue anyone who uses the property.
Letting that provision take effect would anger European allies whose citizens and companies could face lawsuits. Former President Bill Clinton routinely exercised his authority to waive the provision for six-month intervals, arguing a suspension would encourage international cooperation in promoting democratic changes in Cuba.
Cuban-American leaders have said they hope that Bush would offset any further suspension with new anti-Castro measures.
In that context, critics suggested that Bush was trying on Friday to score hollow points with the politically influential Cuban-American community. Cuban-Americans are an especially important political constituency in Florida, where Bush’s younger brother Jeb is the incumbent governor seeking re-election.