The Miami Herald
Tue, May 11, 2004

Policy on Cuba will cost Bush votes, group warns

A group of exiles says new restrictions on travel to Cuba will hurt relatives on the island -- not Fidel Castro's government.


A new Bush administration policy limiting travel and cash remittances to Cuba will cost the president votes in South Florida come November, a group of exiles who favor eased relations with the island warned Monday.

Four days after President Bush's announcement, leaders of five organizations said at a press conference they will encourage exiles to work against the president's reelection -- putting them at odds with other exiles who support Bush's new policy.

''Some 140,000 Cuban exiles visited the island last year; 100,000 of those lived in South Florida,'' said Andres Gomez, head of the Antonio Maceo Brigade. ``This will mean many of those who can't travel to the island will vote against Bush -- and for a candidate who allows travel to Cuba.''

The group of exiles, who often stage political battles with staunch anti-Castro exiles because they favor an easing of the U.S. embargo on the island, called the new restrictions ''a violation of their civil rights.'' The restrictions will be a blow to the Cuban people who depend on money from relatives in Miami-Dade and elsewhere in the United States to get by, they said.

Without their ragtag humanitarian aid, their relatives, not Fidel Castro's government, will suffer, they said.

''This is a political mistake and it's inhumane,'' said Max Lesnick of the Alianza Martiana. ''This will boomerang'' on the administration.

But other groups such as the powerful Cuban American National Foundation support tighter travel restrictions.

The group that held the press conference blamed the tightening of rules on ''the Cuban right who have no feelings for those on the island,'' Gomez said.

Last week, Bush said he will cut back Cuban Americans' family visits to the island from once a year to once every three years.

He'll also limit the length of a visit to 14 days, cut the amount U.S. visitors can spend there, and limit which relatives can travel there.

He also will restrict who can receive money, which can no longer be sent to individuals but only to a single household.

The president called for spending an extra $45 million over the next two years, putting the tighter sanctions in place and also the purchase of an airplane to better fight Cuba's jamming of Radio and TV Martí.

Felix Ramirez, 51, who arrived in the United States in 1969 and says he visits the island three times a year and sends cash to relatives regularly, said he has a terminally ill sister in Matanzas. He fears he won't see her again.

''She's dying,'' he said. ``In three years, she'll be dead and buried and I can visit her bones in some cemetery.''