Cubans brace for impact of new restrictions

Time of article published Jun 27, 2004

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By Anita Snow

Havana - Pedro Manuel Camos's firstborn was a babe in arms when the boy's grandparents met him last year during a trip back to their native Cuba from their adopted home of Florida.

But under new US rules taking effect on Wednesday, the grandparents likely won't see little Pedro Alejandro again until he is walking, talking three-year-old. The rules say Cubans in the United States can visit family here just once every three years, rather than the previous once annually.

Aimed at strangling Cuba's socialist economy and forcing out President Fidel Castro, the rules also more tightly restrict how much money and luggage visiting Cubans can bring and how much they can spend.

They also dictate which relatives can receive money from the United States, ruling out aunts, uncles, cousins and others not considered immediate family. The rules are retroactive, stretching back to the last Cuba trip.

"It will affect my mother more than anyone else," said Camos, 40. "She has a lot of family here: her mom, a brother and sister, two sons, and her grandchild.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that the ties between Cubans here and Cubans there is more emotional than economic," he added.

More than one million Cubans live overseas, an estimated 600 000 of them in South Florida. The rest live mostly in other parts of the United States, Latin America and Europe.

Nearly 168 000 Cuban visitors - including 115 000 from the United States - visited last year, bringing with them cardboard boxes and huge vinyl suitcases stuffed with clothes, medicines, toys, and household goods.

Direct charter flights between Havana and Miami were packed this week as Cuban Americans rushed to make one last trip to the island. Those already here rushed to get back home before Wednesday's deadline.

"These regulations are a harsh blow to the Cuban family," Rafael Dausa, director of the Foreign Ministry's North America Department, said recently.

Castro this week (June 21) declared the measures "an atrocious and inhumane act", and said they would not dislodge him from power.

The US president's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba recommended the new rules in a recent report that amounted to a call for regime change.

Administered by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets control, the rules were welcomed by conservatives in Miami's Cuban exile community, many of whom left in the 1960s and have no family here.

US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-born Florida Republican, said: "These new pressures on Cuba's command economy will rob the dictatorship of funds to further oppress the Cuban people."

A second Cuban-American in Congress, US Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart, also a Republican from Florida, called Bush "the best friend the cause of freedom for Cuba has ever had in the White House".

But the measures have been largely criticised on the island, where many look forward to visits by relatives bearing gifts, cash, and stories of new lives across the Florida Straits.

As in the case of remittances, future trips here also will be limited to immediate family members.

Cuban officials wryly point out the rules would eliminate as immediate family the great-uncle of Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez, who unsuccessfully fought in 2000 to keep Elian in the United States after he was found floating on an inner tube off Florida.

Even many dissidents oppose the measures, and resent CmigrCs who support moves making life here even tougher.

Miriam Leiva, wife of imprisoned dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe, said the measures will hurt Cubans more than Castro. Her husband, serving 20 years, was among 75 opposition members rounded up in a crackdown last year.

"For which Cuba - and for whose Cuba - was the Bush administration's plan to hasten reform in Cuba written?" Leiva asked in a May 24 article in the online magazine Salon.com.

"Speaking neither for the Castro government, which oppresses us, nor for Miami's Cuban community, which uses our suffering to advance its own ends, I am forced to ask: Who will faithfully represent the Cuban people and Cuban's political dissidents?"

Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, founder of the Miami-based exile group Cambio Cubano, also criticized the new rules. "These measures are in absolute disagreement with the interests of Cubans on the island and only contribute to the entrenchment of Cuba's government," he said.

Gutierrez-Menoyo returned to the island last year to stay for good, but his immigration status here remains undefined. He said that because he remains a legal US resident, and belongs to the opposition, he hopes the rules won't affect visits by his family.

Now 69 and nearly blind, Gutierrez-Menoyo lives in Havana while awaiting a reply to his request to live here permanently as a Cuban citizen.

His wife, also of Cuban origin, and his three school-age sons, all US-born American citizens, live in Miami.

The family visited last year and await a U.S. officials decision on their request to come back this summer.

"Can you imagine not being able to kiss your sons for three years?" Gutierrez-Menoyo asked. - Sapa-AP

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