A Cold, Poll-Driven Calculation

Divert resources from antiterrorism investigations, mandate burdensome
government paperwork and forbid families from helping -- or even seeing --
their relatives. That's the new U.S. policy toward Cuba.

As if four decades of a failed embargo were not enough, the White House just
made matters breathtakingly worse. To demonstrate its disdain for Fidel
Castro to Florida's hard-line exiles, the White House will now punish those
most critical to the future stability of post-Castro Cuba: the moderate
Cuban-American community.

The Bush administration recently announced a battery of provocative steps to
undermine the Cuban government, but the real impact -- like the existing
travel ban -- is mainly on U.S. citizens.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the tightened restrictions on, of all
people, Cuban Americans. Until now, they could travel to the island annually
and without hassle. The tears of joy at Havana's Jose Marti Airport, as
relatives from across the Florida Straits are reunited, are profound
testament to the deep devotion of the Cuban people to the sanctity of the
family -- and to the hope for a day when the only obstacle to family
reunions would be the 40-minute flight.

That spirit now is apparently contrary to U.S. foreign policy. The new rules
permit Cuban Americans to visit the island once every three years -- and
then only if they can get a license to travel from the Treasury Department.
Consciously or not, this is eerily similar to the Castro regime's use of
exit visas to determine which Cubans can visit their families living abroad.

On top of that, the White House has also restricted remittances. Under the
changes, Americans are permitted to send cash only to a Cuban child, parent,
sibling or grandparent -- but not to cousins or nephews.

As foreign policy, this further undercuts the most effective force for
democracy in Cuba: direct exchanges between ordinary Cubans and ordinary
Americans, especially Cuban Americans. As domestic policy, it creates an
expensive mandate for the federal ''travel police'' to enforce the new
rules. And as politics, it subordinates all else to a single electoral
imperative: pandering to a shrinking and increasingly fringe element in
South Florida.

Never mind that the United States just normalized relations with the Gadhafi
dictatorship in Libya, leaving Cuba as the only country in the world that
average Americans are prohibited from visiting. Never mind that the federal
agency responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden's assets wastes 20 percent
of its resources on prosecuting U.S. citizens who travel -- often
innocently, sometimes legally -- to Cuba. Or that we can spare military
aircraft to beam propaganda into Cuba but can't find a dime to help starving
Haitians a few miles away. Or that the new rules come only a few months
after both the House and Senate voted, by large bipartisan majorities, to
lift the travel ban altogether.

The new Cuba rules are a cold, poll-driven calculation that has less to do
with democracy-building in Havana than with vote-counting in Miami.

This is, however, a miscalculation. It will not break Castro's resolve. It
will do nothing to offer help to those in need in Cuba. Just ask Oswaldo
Paya, the courageous dissident and leader of the Varela Project who lamented
last week that the authors of the U.S. changes ``looked to their own needs
rather than those of Cuba and the peaceful opposition movement.''

In announcing the changes, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega said
that our goal is to ``liberate the Cuban people from . . . dependence on
international charity.''

For a Cuban American, returning to the island for a brother's funeral or
sending money to a needy aunt is not international charity; it is honoring
the most fundamental of family values. To crack down on these familial
responsibilities does nothing to advance U.S. interests.

U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., serves on the House Committee on
International Relations and co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Cuba
Working Group.