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July 9, 2001

July 9, 2001 | News Releases on

Move Closer To Cuban People, Not Their Leader, Analysts Say

WASHINGTON, Jul. 9, 2001-It's too soon for the United States to re-open diplomatic relations with Cuba-but it is time to reach out to the Cuban people to ensure a freer and more prosperous future for the island nation after dictator Fidel Castro leaves office, says a new Heritage Foundation paper.

Four bills now before Congress would take different approaches to encouraging democratic change on the island. Two would help the Cuban people by expanding humanitarian and other assistance to pro-democracy and human-rights groups. Two others would remove restrictions on sales of food and medicines, allow some credit and barter transactions, end bans on travel to Cuba, and provide scholarships for Cuban graduate students in selected fields.

All four include "some important new tools to assist in the island's eventual transition," according to Heritage analysts Daniel Fisk and Stephen Johnson. "But any legislation that results should do three things: support the emerging democratic forces on the island, encourage market economics, and-as much as possible-deny material aid to the regime."

A bill introduced by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., would expand assistance to independent non-governmental organizations and victims of political repression by providing communications and printing equipment, published materials, humanitarian assistance and other support for pro-democracy and human-rights groups.

Sens. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., followed that with a proposal that would increase-from $5 million per year to $25 million-spending for pro-democracy and human-rights advocacy in Cuba, as well as educational materials, food, medicine, office supplies and emerging independent libraries. To promote free enterprise, it would allow Americans to buy up to $1,000 worth of goods per three-month period from private enterprises in Cuba.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Joseph Serrano, D-N.Y., have proposed an even more far-reaching measure. Their bill calls for ending restrictions on travel, trade and financial transactions. It also would authorize scholarships for Cuban graduate students to study in the United States in fields such as public health, law, public policy and economics.

The Dodd-Serrano measure is flawed, say Fisk and Johnson, because it focuses on allowing American firms to do business with the repressive Castro regime, when the focus should be on person-to-person outreach. Also, it would allow Cuba to buy on credit-a privilege it has long abused-and by barter, which strengthens government-owned monopoly businesses.

The analysts say scholarships should go not just to graduate students but to undergraduates and postgraduates as well, with preference going to Cubans not employed by or involved with the government and with few restrictions (if any) on which majors these students may pursue.

Travel restrictions should be scaled back only if Cuba commits to reform, Fisk and Johnson say. Today, a government monopoly controls tourism in the country, and-in a Cuban version of apartheid-ordinary citizens can enter tourist facilities only as clerks, maids, bellhops or prostitutes.

If the best parts of all four bills were folded into "a unified policy approach" that increases assistance to victims of Castro's repression, new small businesses and independent Cuban organizations, it may lay the foundation for a more prosperous Cuba, they say.

"With Castro's health a question mark and no clear successor in sight, ordinary Cubans should be viewed as the real future of the island," according to the analysts. "We should invest in them and help them move toward an open, democratic government and give them commercial incentives to ease the transition to a true market economy."

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