President Bush is moving to reduce the flow of U.S. dollars to Cuba and taking other steps to try to hasten the end of Fidel Castro's communist government in Havana. The steps were recommended by a study commission headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Mr. Bush said the United States will increase support for organizations supporting Cuban dissidents and take steps to reduce the flow of dollars to Cuba from tourists and remittances, as part of a tough new strategy to help Cubans become free of what he termed the "tyranny" of the Castro government.
At a White House meeting Thursday with members of the commission he ordered be set up last year, the President said the United States will not passively await a change in government in Cuba.
"It is a strategy that will prevent the regime from exploiting hard currency of tourists and of remittances to Cubans, to prop up their repressive regime," he said. "It is a strategy that says we're not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom. We are working for the day of freedom in Cuba."
The report called for spending of nearly $60 million in funds already appropriated by the Congress to support democracy-building and public diplomacy programs directed at Cubans.
This will include $18 million for the relay into Cuba by specially-equipped U.S. military transport planes of U.S. funded Radio and TV Marti broadcasts, which are heavily jammed by Cuban authorities.
The plan aims at reducing the hard currency available to the Castro government by restricting dollar remittances and gift parcels by Cuban-Americans to only their immediate family members in Cuba and barring such transfers altogether to Cuban communist party members and some government officials.
Family visits to Cuba by Cuban-Americans would be limited to one trip every three years and the amount of money they can spend in Cuba would be cut by two-thirds, to $50 a day.
Additionally, the plan would impose tighter restrictions on so-called "educational travel" to Cuba by American groups, which have increased in recent years and are widely considered de facto tourism.
At a news briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega said Cubans are well-aware that tourism money has become a major prop for the Castro government.
"They're worried about the repressive apparatus which is supported by people who do trade and travel to Cuba and go and enjoy the beaches in Cuba, beaches which by the way Cuban people don't even have access to. That money is ploughed into a system or vacuumed up by a regime that pays a policeman four times what it pays a teacher."
Some of the funds would support planning for a political transition in Cuba after Mr. Castro's departure and be aimed specifically at preventing a hand over of power from the Cuban leader to his younger brother, Raul, the country's longtime defense minister.
The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba was set up last October with a mandate to, among other things, formulate a response to Cuba's crackdown on dissent, earlier in 2003, that resulted in long prison terms for more than 70 leading political opponents of Mr. Castro.
Democrats have said the new White House strategy is aimed at currying favor with Cuban-American voters, who wield heavy political power in the key state of Florida.
New Jersey Democratic House member Robert Menendez said earlier this week, setting the commission's reporting deadline for May 1, during the U.S. Presidential campaign, is so politically-transparent as to be laughable.