by Dalia Acosta
(IPS) HAVANA -- Relations between Cuba and the United States keep heating up as U.S. November elections approach.
Measures to stiffen the four-decade embargo, official reports accusing Havana of people trafficking and other human rights violations, and other aggressive signals continue to issue from Washington, in what analysts in both countries see as an attempt by President George W. Bush to secure the votes of the powerful Cuban-American constituency in the key election state of Florida.
The socialist government of Fidel Castro, meanwhile, has responded with its own internal economic measures, criticism of the United States, and complaints in whatever international forum is meeting in Latin America or elsewhere.
The U.S. "escalation of aggression" against Cuba is aimed at justifying "the irrational policy of the embargo and unilateral sanctions" and at "creating a list of accusations that would justify a possible military intervention," Granma, the daily newspaper of Cuba's ruling Communist Party, wrote Thursday.
Granma was responding to a U.S. State Department report presented Monday, which ranks Cuba among the nations accused of failing to adequately fight international human trafficking, sex tourism and the exploitation of children.
The report, which was roundly rejected by Cuban authorities, was followed by Wednesday's announcement of regulations for the implementation of measures presented by Bush last month as part of a plan to foment "a transition to democracy" in Cuba.
The regulations, which were published in the U.S. Federal Register, stipulate that Cuban-Americans can only visit their direct family members in Cuba every three years and for a maximum of 14 days.
Visitors can bring in just 44 pounds of baggage each, and on their return to U.S. territory cannot bring back Cuban merchandise or any product purchased or otherwise acquired on the island.
And while the ceiling on cash that can be sent to Cuba was maintained at $100 a month, the new measure states that remittances can only be sent to spouses, parents, children or grandparents.
The measures, which will mainly affect Cuban families who are divided between the United States and Cuba, have been rejected by the Castro government and the Catholic Church, as well as dissident groups in this Caribbean island nation.
Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a dissident who returned from exile in the United States and is demanding the right to live in Cuba, said Thursday that the Bush administration's new measures are "a rehash of an antiquated, obsolete policy that is bogged down in its own stupidity" and will only contribute to "a further entrenching of the Cuban government."
In a statement distributed to the foreign press, Menoyo urged Cuban-Americans to back the presumptive Democratic Party candidate John Kerry in the November presidential elections.
The dissident, who spent years in jail in Cuba as a political prisoner before going into exile, said a triumph by Kerry would "be good for the cause of democratisation in Cuba and for the creation of a policy of neighbourly relations between the two countries."
The Cuban government's response to Bush's plan included a decision to raise the prices in the government chain of stores that sell basic products only in dollars, a measure that also drew criticism from the Catholic Church and dissident groups.
A May 24 statement by the Catholic bishops' conference in Cuba rejected the measures announced by the White House, as well as the Cuban government's response.
The bishops said both the U.S. and Cuban measures "hit the poorest families on the island," who are "especially hurt" because "the new hardships" and burdens heighten the "anguish" of their situation and aggravate the separation of families in Cuba from their loves ones in the United States.
Analysts say that instead of strengthening support for Bush in the Cuban exile community, the administration's measures could lose the president votes among many Cuban-Americans who, although opposed to Castro, want to be able to maintain close ties with their families in Cuba.
Representatives of the most radical factions of the Cuban exile community argue that all of the money and goods sent to Cuba from the United States, even those that merely help support families, only sustain Castro's regime.
The new U.S. measures go even farther than that, and include actions to discredit Cuba in third party countries to discourage tourism to this Caribbean island nation, as another way of blocking the inflow of hard currency into Cuban state coffers.
That is how Havana also interpreted the U.S. accusation regarding sex tourism and the exploitation of minors, which follows other accusations with respect to religious freedom, human rights or the "sponsoring" of state terrorism.
The Cuban government recently accused Washington of trying to keep Havana from depositing, in foreign banks, the hard currency it takes in through tourism and sales in its dollar-only stores.
The government complained that the U.S. administration claimed that some of the funds were the result of money laundering and drug trafficking, to pressure foreign banks not to accept funds from the island that according to Havana are "of absolutely legal and honest origin."
"This way, Cuba would be unable to use those dollars to purchase medicine and food," and to supply the dollar stores, where Cubans use family remittances to buy many basic products, said the government statement, released June 8.
June 16, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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