BILL PUNISHES CUBA TRAVELERS - Mitch Perry08/25/04
Earlier this summer, a new Bush Administration policy on travel and remittances regarding Cuban Americans went into effect, deeply dividing Cuban Americans on the new restrictions. Now a Miami State Representative wants to go even FURTHER than the PresidentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s policiesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.. Republican David Rivera yesterday announced the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Travel and Commerce with Terrorist Nations ActÃ¢â‚¬?(roll tape#1 o.q.Ã¢â‚¬?here in FloridaÃ¢â‚¬?) The PresidentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new policy reduces the allowed number of Cubans' and Cuban Americans' visits to relatives on the island from once a year to once every three years. The administration also capped the amount of money that Cubans in the United States can send to relatives on the island to $100 a month. Rivera said the legislation is aimed at stopping recent arrivals who come to the United States, apply for benefits and then travel back to visit Cuba. Though such travel is legal, Rivera argues that the money spent on the island only helps prop up Cuban leader Fidel Castro.(roll tape#2 o.q.Ã¢â‚¬?to the regimeÃ¢â‚¬?) Besides Cuba, the countries include Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Sudan. Because direct charter flights from Florida to any of the other nations are essentially nonexistent, the bill ultimately applies only to Cuba. Activists who favor increased contact with the island accused Rivera of trying to rally support for the president's travel restrictions. Sylvia Wilhelm is the Executive Director of the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights. She says this legislation is cruel and penalizes the most vulnerable (roll tape#3 o.q.Ã¢â‚¬?get penalizedÃ¢â‚¬?) Polls suggest that new restrictions that limit travel and cash remittances to families have been embraced by hard-line exiles, who had urged Bush to take a stronger stance against Castro or risk losing Cuban-American support at the polls in November. The Miami Herald reported on Wednesday that Representative Rivera was among a dozen legislators who wrote to Bush last summer, warning him that Cuban Americans would be less than enthusiastic about his re-election if he didn't tighten sanctions on Castro. Those new restrictions went into effect last month. But many younger Cuban Americans have decried the restrictions as too harsh, and Democrats have sought to court those voters, calling the restrictions harmful to families. Sylvia Wilhelm from the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights says that like so many other issues involving Cuba in Florida, especially during an election year, politics is at play here. But she doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it will work (roll tape#2 o.q.Ã¢â‚¬?it will backfire come November 2ndÃ¢â‚¬?) Representative Rivera says any that money from those unused benefits would go to programs to purchase eyeglasses and hearing aids for the elderly -- and he notes that those under 18 or over 65, disabled or pregnant would not be affected by the legislation. The proposal also would require all travelers to Cuba to register with the state -- and would slap a $10 per passenger fee on the charter airlines that fly to the island.