The Bush administration's new restrictions on travel, parcels and remittances to Cuba are hurtful and counterproductive. For 45 years the Cuban regime has driven a wedge between Cubans who stay on the island and those who left. The story of JosÚ Contreras' joyous reunion with his wife and daughters after 20 months of painful separation shows how much family means to Cubans on both sides of the straits. U.S. measures that further divide these families add to their pain -- and to the hardship for Cubans in Cuba.
Embargo on commerce
To be clear: It is Fidel Castro's repression and failed policies that drive Cubans to need aid and leave the island. We support the U.S. embargo on commerce with Cuba's regime, which uses profits to oppress its people. We applaud the Bush administration's new measures to bolster Radio MartÝ, aid Cuban dissidents and crack down on pleasure boaters visiting Cuba.
The family visits and aid from U.S. Cubans, however, counter regime lies about vengeful exiles. Face-to-face reunions between relatives dispel the fear of Americans sowed by the regime's propaganda machine. Little can be more subversive to the regime, or more healing for Cubans here and on the island.
Unfortunately, the new rules will cut down on these contacts. Beginning Wednesday, the rules limit Cuban Americans to only one family trip every three years -- instead of one annually. They apply retroactively, which means that if you visited Cuba last year, you have to wait another two years to go again. Cousins, aunts and uncles are no longer considered immediate family, thus aren't eligible to receive visits, remittances or gift parcels. That's appalling, particularly for families whose relatives are ailing in Cuba.
For Cubans on the island, U.S. remittances create an important -- albeit small -- source of autonomy from the regime. The aid bolsters their standard of living and provides entrepreneurial capital. Yet the new policy bans sending clothes, personal-hygiene items and other goods. Even fish hooks are barred.
The regime, of course, blames the Bush administration for the hardships that the restrictions will impose. But the regime itself is the cause of its peoples' misery. Nevertheless, Castro's campaign may well strike a chord among island Cubans hurt by the U.S. limits on visits and aid. This campaign, and far fewer people-to-people contact between Americans and Cubans, will impede a democratic transition in Cuba. As for U.S. politics, the policy may rally more hard-line Cuban Americans to vote Republican in November. But it could just as easily swing moderates in the other direction.