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Cubans suffer, Castro shrugs

Once again, for narrow political reasons, the Bush administration and Republican congressional leaders are thwarting attempts to infuse some sanity into U.S. policy toward Cuba. In back-to-back votes last week, Congress called for rolling back some trade barriers and for easing new travel restrictions to Cuba. This was but the latest expression of growing political support for moving beyond the four-decade-old trade embargo that has failed to oust Fidel Castro. But House leaders, citing the threat of a presidential veto, moved to subvert the will of Congress, mocking our very commitment to democracy in full view of the Cuban people.

The House adopted two amendments Wednesday. One would loosen restrictions on selling farm products, medicines and medical supplies to Cuba, while the second would block new rules aimed at keeping American students off the island. The votes came only a day after the House approved another amendment, this one by Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, that would have blocked another Bush administration rule making it harder for Cuban-Americans to visit family on the island. None of these policies put pressure on Castro.

Republican House leaders said the measures would probably be stripped from the 2005 transportation spending bill because of the veto threat. That's a safe bet; House leaders are not going to risk legislation that contains billions of dollars in federal pork and homeland security projects. But this is not about fiscal or security policy. It's about politics, nothing more.

Policies that keep families apart and limit the movement of American citizens provide Castro with the grist to confuse his people on the true cause of their suffering. In Miami this week, a prominent exile leader called Bush's "probably the worst administration we've ever had on Cuban policy." Another Hispanic leader told the Miami Herald that Cuban-Americans were breaking away from the "stigma" of being Democrats. The tide might be changing.

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