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Squeezing Havana

THE BUSH administration's tough new sanctions against Cuba have given President Fidel Castro yet another opportunity to spew his anti-American rhetoric and stage popular expressions of outrage. Nothing new there. But when Cuban exiles in Miami question the policy, President Bush has a problem.

The sanctions, which take effect today, restrict American residents' travel to Cuba to once every three years and the amount of money to be spent there. They limit the kinds of gifts that can be received in Cuba and who can receive them. Restrictions also have been placed on educational programs. The administration has imposed these restrictions in its bullheaded quest to force Mr. Castro from office. But let's face it: 44 years of sanctions haven't pried Mr. Castro from his seat of power.

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Toughening sanctions, despite congressional support for lifting the travel ban, is a political play for votes in the powerful anti-Castro community in South Florida. Mr. Bush and his re-election chiefs, however, may have foolishly miscalculated the benefits of getting tougher with Mr. Castro before the November election.

Barring a Cuban exile from visiting a sick cousin because he doesn't qualify as immediate family under the new policy won't win Mr. Bush any votes. As Tessie Aral, owner of a travel agency in Miami and a registered Republican, put it: "That's cruel and inhumane. In the Latin American community, family is deeper than blood."

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Ms. Aral may be one vote, but she reflects the sentiments of Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, who was quoted recently questioning the "moral ground" of the Bush policy as it affects families.

Cuban-Americans overwhelmingly supported Mr. Bush in the 2000 election, which he won by squeaking out a 537-vote victory in Florida. But many recent immigrants fled the island not for political reasons but to better their lives, and their family ties outweigh their animus toward Mr. Castro.

The new sanctions hit Cuban families where it will hurt - in the pocket. Americans who are 18 and older have been able to send up to $1,200 a year to the island. But now only people with immediate family in Cuba can send money, and it can only be sent to those relatives.

The fallacy of U.S. sanctions is that the Bush administration is squeezing Cuba in one way, but the Castro regime is taking political advantage of a 4-year-old U.S. law that permits the sale of food and medicine to the island. The U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council estimates about $573 million in food and agricultural products have been exported to Cuba from December 2001 through May.

The Bush administration's tightening of the trade embargo may antagonize Mr. Castro, but it won't diminish his standing at home.


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