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2004-06-21

Bush vs. Cuba: The Quiet War

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On June 30, the Bush administration’s newest adjustments to the blockade against Cuba go into effect. To discuss these latest sanctions we are joined by Art Heitzer, a Milwaukee-based attorney who currently chairs the National Lawyer’s Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee and represents people who break the US travel ban on Cuba.[includes transcript]

June 30 has been designated by the Bush administration as the date of the official handover of sovereignty in Iraq. But it is also a key date in the Bush administration’s newest adjustments to the blockade against Cuba. On Wednesday, the US government published the regulations in the Federal Register. The latest sanctions against Cuba have been under discussion for several weeks but the official announcement comes after the formal recommendation from George W Bush’s interagency commission tasked with proposing steps to bring down the government of Fidel Castro.

The new rules permit Cuban-Americans to visit immediate relatives on the island only once every three years, instead of once per year. Visits can last no longer than 14 days. U.S. citizens who are not Cuban-Americans are banned from visiting the island nation.

The regulations ban travelers from bringing back any Cuban merchandise and receiving any gifts of goods or services from Cuban nationals, the Cuban government, or citizens of third countries. And authorized visitors will only be able to take $300 in cash to Cuba, down from $3,000. Educational visits to Cuba will also be curtailed.

In response to the new moves, Florida Republican Congressmember Lincoln Diaz-Balart said Bush "is the best friend the cause of freedom for Cuba has ever had in the White House." Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also a Republican from Florida, said the measures "will rob the dictatorship of funds to further oppress the Cuban people."

  • Art Heitzer, a Milwaukee-based attorney. He is currently Chair of the National Lawyer’s Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee and works with the Center for Constitutional Rights representing people who break the US travel ban on Cuba.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now with us a Milwaukee-based attorney, currently chair of the National Lawyer’s Guild Cuba Subcommittee, representing people who break the U.S. Travel ban on Cuba, which I believe is about to happen again. Art Heitzer, we welcome you to Democracy Now!.

ART HEITZER : Thank you, Amy and good health to you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks, I need it. Well, just can you briefly talk about the significance of June 30 and the Bush Administration’s policy towards Cuba?

ART HEITZER : Sure. Well, since it took power, the Bush Administration has targeted Cuba for regime change and particularly put U.S. Citizens’ Civil Liberties on the chopping block. And what’s happening on June 30, it’s very interesting because now they’ve reached to the point of targeting large elements of the Cuban-American community because they are apparently taking the advice of extreme Right-Wing elements within that community and those who have recently arrived and who consider the sanctity of the Cuban family more important than trying to get rid of Castro are now being targeted. So, you see, for example, that Cuban-Americans who want to go back and visit their relatives are told that they cannot do so more than once every three years and they can only visit their immediate family. If you have an aunt or niece or cousin or something like that, you can’t go at all. And if your mother is there and she is very sick and you visit her and then you find out two years later that she is dying, they say tough luck. You’ve made your choice. You have to wait another year until she’s been dead for a year. And this is causing massive unrest within the Cuban-American community, even in Florida, which is very interesting because I think it’s a political miscalculation. But academic visits are extremely restricted so that now only full semester courses are allowed. Typical course for someone — seminar would go for a couple of weeks, those are not going to be allowed anymore. And the category fully hosted, which is very interesting, has now been abolished, which means the whole rationale of saying we’re not trying to reinvent the Right of Travel, just money from going to prop-up the Castro Regime, is now really going out the window and they are saying even if you are going to Cuba, you are not going to spend any money because you are the host of someone else, that they’re not going to allow that except when you apply in advance and they decide whether or not you can go. So this is all in the context. You mentioned Congressman Diaz Bellar. He called for the assasination of Fidel Castro in the last few months. It has to be seen in the context of the extremely aggressive Bush policy to Iraq and other countries and targeted on Cuba and to prevent any kind of normal exchange between the average person of the United States and the average person of Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm. What about other issues related to Cuba? And you talk about Florida, which is an absolutely key state . What this is doing in Florida among Cuban exiles.

ART HEITZER : Well, besides travel, which I think is key because I think probably on both sides, the sentiment is if the average American was able to go to Cuba and see that the rest of the embargo policies probably could not survive. I think that is very key. But there’s control of exchange, even for a U.S. Publication to print a Cuban article that they edited or translated, they’ve been warned not to do that. They might face criminal sanctions. There’s been — Jesse Jackson has talked about the potential and others the potential that Cuba is on the list of U.S. Targets for even military action. You have this commission that was appointed, that has come back, and talking about really Regime Change in Cuba and that is their goal to change the Cuban government. And within the Cuban-American community, I mean, we’re actually — people on our side of the fence who want to change the policy are talking about voter registration within the Cuban-American community. Because those who have come in recent years are really much different than those who left in 1959 and 1960 who were in very powerful positions. That element, which is still politically powerful, by and large, seems to want to harm the Cuban people in other words to overthrow the Revolution and they don’t care what happens to the average Cuban. Where as many others feel much different.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute more to go. Is there a difference between bush and Kerry on Cuba?

ART HEITZER : In fact, I think there is. While both express hostility towards the Revolution, Kerry’s position is in favor of allowing much broader form of travel and if there is travel allowed, broadly, I think that our policy cannot be sustained because the average American coming back will see that the policy makes no sense. And so the extreme hostility, the provocation, the potential of perhaps even military action, having U.S. military craft fly in and around Cuba in order to broadcast messages, etc., which could be a military provocation, I think Kerry is taking an initiative from Bush which is really targeting even many Cuban-Americans and saying, "No, there should be broader travel." And that is a significant difference and could make a big difference for the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Any other comment on what is most significant in looking at Cuba policy right now?

ART HEITZER : Well, it is the targeting of U.S. people. Not only have many forms of travel been many illegal that used to be illegal — legal in the last few years, not only are there now administrative prosecutions of people in Washington, D.C. For the first time in 11 years, since it now started, but you have in key west criminal indictments for the charge of organizing and promoting a sailboat race to Cuba. Not even spending any money in Cuba, but sending e-mails about scheduling, putting on a website that this regatta is going to happen and people are facing 15 years in prisons this is just dimes that came down in the last couple of weeks. You see a great threat against the American people. And there are responses. For example, there are three major travel challenges going on this summer. Pastors for Peace, you can get on their website, www.pastorsforpeace.org for example, is one of the larger ones. They are leaving from Texas on July 8, they’re coming back and the other travel challenge is coming back July 19. These are very important for people to support. Hopefully this policy will be on the front page and the average American doesn’t understand why, after 40-some years we can’t go to Cuba and the policy has no popular support, it doesn’t have support in Congress, and this administration hopefully will be cut off on the short string.

AMY GOODMAN: Art Heitzer, Milwaukee-based attorney, currently chair of the National Lawyers Guild Cuba Subcommittee, also working for the Center for Constitutional Rights on Cuban Issues.

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