With one eye on November's presidential election and the key battleground state of Florida, President George Bush yesterday promised a slew of get-tough-on-Cuba initiatives.
With one eye on November's presidential election and the key battleground state of Florida, President George Bush yesterday promised a slew of get-tough-on-Cuba initiatives aimed at choking off Fidel Castro's supply of hard currency and enforcing the successful transmission of US-sponsored radio and television broadcasts.
With characteristic swagger, Mr Bush denounced the "tyranny" of Mr Castro's government and said: "We're not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom, we are working for the day of freedom in Cuba."
Mr Bush also endorsed sending military C-130 transport aircraft into the skies near Cuba to ensure the transmission of TV and Radio Marti, two US propaganda channels that have been routinely jammed in Cuba since 1990.
The new measures, based on the recommendations of a special presidential commission on Cuba, did not go as far as some of the more extreme anti-Castro advocates - in Florida and within the Bush administration - had hoped. Mr Bush appeared to pull back from an earlier proposal to freeze all remittances sent to Cuba by the exile community for six months. Instead, he is now expected to endorse better policing methods so that the limit of $1,200 (£670) per family per year is more rigorously enforced.
Hardline anti-Castro advocates argue that the remittances are too often falling into the hands of the Cuban government, rather than the families for whom they are intended. Two weeks ago the idea of freezing the remittances was suggested in a newspaper article in Florida's Sun-Sentinel. The co-chair of the Cuba commission, the Florida Republican Mel Martinez, told the paper the administration was thinking of ending the remittances "because they are not helpful". But that idea went down badly with the younger, more moderate generation of Cuban exiles who came to Florida during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. They remain deeply attached to their families and see the remittances as a lifeline.
Mr Bush appears to have paid heed to an opinion poll published in the Sun-Sentinel, showing that this younger generation - which accounts for about one-third of Florida's Cuban vote - objects strongly to any policy that would jeopardise the flow of money or travel for family members to and from Cuba.
Sergio Bendixen, of the poll's co-ordinators, told Ann Louise Bardach, the author and Cuba expert: "If this administration cuts travel or remittances to Cuba, they lose the Cuban vote and the election".
The political fine-tuning is absolutely crucial to the Bush administration, since all indications suggest that the presidential election could be as close in Florida as it was in 2000. Four years ago, Al Gore won just 18 per cent of the Cuban vote, largely because of the negative fall-out from the case of Elian Gonzalez, the eight-year-old boy forcibly taken from his relatives in Florida by Bill Clinton's administration and sent home to his father in Cuba.
If John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, can get closer to Bill Clinton's 1996 tally of 39 per cent of the Cuban vote, it may well be enough.Reuse content