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    Cuban abuses may scuttle efforts to ease sanctions

    Posted on Sunday, 03.28.10

    Cuban abuses may scuttle efforts to ease sanctions
    Some monumental misbehavior by the Castro government may scuttle a move
    in Congress to ease sanctions.

    The recent brutish crackdown on the protest marchers,
    the latest in a string of abuses in Cuba, might delay or derail
    congressional efforts to ease sanctions on the Castro government, even
    supporters of a thaw acknowledge.

    “Those who want to unconditionally lift sanctions were already in an
    uphill climb for votes, and all this will definitely not help them,''
    said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the pro- U.S.-Cuba
    Democracy political action committee.

    By “all this'' he referred not just to the crackdown on peaceful
    marchers, but to the Feb. 23 death of jailed
    amid a hunger strike and the detention of U.S. subcontractor Alan P.
    since Dec. 3.

    International condemnations rained down on Havana for the and
    Ladies in White cases. President Barack Obama blasted Cuban authorities
    last week, saying they “continue to respond to the aspirations of the
    Cuban people with a clenched fist.''

    Cuba dismissed Zapata as a “common criminal'' and the Ladies in White,
    who demand the release of their jailed relatives, as part of an
    organized media campaign designed to highlight U.S.-financed
    “mercenaries'' out to topple the communist system.

    A Washington Post editorial Friday urged Congress to quickly release $20
    million for democracy programs on the island — funding that angers the
    Castro government. “This is the wrong time for the to be
    holding up support for Cuba's courageous dissidents,'' it said.

    Some backers of easing Cuba sanctions agree the recent events have
    impacted their cause.

    “It probably makes things a little more difficult,'' said Phil Peters,
    a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia think tank.

    “There may be some Congress members in the middle [of the sanctions
    debate] who see this and simply shy away.''

    One anti-sanctions activist compared the effort to ease U.S. policies on
    Cuba to a potato that fewer people want to handle as it gets hotter.

    “It does make it politically more difficult to get engaged in Cuba when
    the government there does these kinds of things,'' said the activist,
    who asked for anonymity to avoid undermining his cause.

    That cause was already hit hard when three of Congress' strongest
    supporters of lifting all restrictions on U.S. to Cuba announced
    they would not seek reelection: Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Sens.
    Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Byron Dorgan, D-ND.

    Adding to the discomfort in Washington was the arrest of Gross — still
    held though no charges have been filed — while delivering satellite
    communications equipment to Cuba's tiny Jewish community.

    Forty-one Congress members last week wrote to the head of Cuba's
    diplomatic mission in Washington, Jorge Bolaños, complaining that the
    Gross detention had caused “great consternation'' among U.S. officials
    “including both Democrat and Republican members of the United States
    Congress, whether liberal or conservative.''

    “It has caused many to doubt your government's expressed desire to
    improve relations with the United States. We cannot assist in that
    regard while Mr. Gross is detained,'' the lawmakers warned.

    The letter was signed by Gross' congressman, Rep. Chris Van Hollen,
    D-Md., powerful head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,
    and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Several signers have
    supported past votes on easing Cuba sanctions, Claver-Carone said.

    And a long-stalled bill that would lift all Cuba travel restrictions has
    yet to come up for a vote in the House Committee on even
    though it was submitted by the committee's chairman, Rep. Collin C.
    Peterson, D-Minn. Peterson is still looking for the votes needed to pass
    the measure, according to congressional officials.

    “They still have four months to approve it'' before Congress halts to
    campaign for reelection in November, said Claver-Carone. “But if they
    were stuck before, they definitely are not moving forward now.''

    Backers of easing sanctions on Cuba continue to argue, however, that
    after five decades of aggressive U.S. policies that have produced no
    changes in Havana, it's time to shift gears and engage the island's
    government on as many fronts as possible.

    “There's no illusion in Congress about the nature of the government in
    Cuba, said Peters. “But they want to open up precisely because it's the
    right policy to have toward a repressive government — a position from
    which to push harder on issues.''

    Anya Landau-Frenchm, director of the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the
    New American Foundation in Washington, had a similar take.

    “You might argue that because of human rights we should be …[tough]
    on Cuba,'' she said. “I would argue that's exactly why we should be
    engaged. In the face of such adversity, you stick to your principles and
    you try to help the Cuban people rather than isolating them.''

    Robert Pastor, former President Jimmy Carter's lead man on Cuba, agrees.

    U.S. policy should be to condemn human rights violations in Cuba while
    closely engaging the island's government to promote U.S. interests, said
    Pastor, now a professor of international relations at American .

    But he also acknowledged how difficult that would be.

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