W A S H I N G T O N, July 13, 2001 -- President Bush today ordered stricter enforcement of afour-decade-old trade embargo against communist-led Cuba andpledged his support for pro-democracy opposition.
The move was seen as an attempt to offset criticism byCuban-Americans of a decision expected next week to suspend fora further six months the right of U.S. firms to sue foreigncompanies doing business with expropriated properties in Cuba.
In a statement issued on the seventh anniversary of thesinking of a Cuban tugboat whose 72 passengers were trying toflee Cuba, Bush said sanctions against Cuba were not just apolicy tool but a "moral statement."
"Seven years ago today, a tugboat carrying 72 people offthe coast of Cuba…was repeatedly rammed by Cuban authoritiesresulting in 41 deaths, including 10 children," Bush said.
"The tyranny that rules Cuba today bears directresponsibility for this and other crimes — crimes, that shouldnot go unpunished, against innocent civilians and countlessother human rights violations over the years," he said.
NGOs to Work on Pro-Democracy Programs
Bush said he asked the Treasury Department to enhance andexpand enforcement capabilities of the Office of Foreign AssetsControl to improve sanctions implementation against Cuba.
"It is important that we uphold and enforce the law to thefullest extent with a view toward preventing unlicensed andexcessive travel, enforcing limits on remittances and ensuringhumanitarian and cultural exchanges actually reachpro-democracy activists in Cuba," he said.
Bush, who has embraced congressional efforts to fund Cubandissidents and overcome jamming of pro-democracy, U.S.-fundedRadio and TV Marti broadcasts to Cuba, also ordered additionalfunding for nongovernmental organizations to work onpro-democracy programs in Cuba.
By Monday Bush must decide whether he will extend apolitically sensitive suspension of a provision in the 1996Helms-Burton act that allows U.S. citizens to sue anyonedealing in properties seized after Cuban leader Fidel Castrotook power in 1959.
Former President Bill Clinton suspended the legal provisionevery six months since signing the Helms-Burton act, whichtoughened the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba after Cuban MiGfighters shot down two planes flown by anti-Castro exiles fromMiami.
This is the first time since he became president that Bushhas had to make the decision. Analysts and government sourcessaid Bush was expected to suspend the provision, believing itwas in the U.S. national interest and was the best way toachieve democratic change in Cuba.
Europe, Canada Oppose Measure
Clinton regularly used his authority to suspend the rightto sue to avoid angering European nations and Canada who havebusiness interests in Cuba. They have sharply condemned thelawsuit provision as an example of an excessive reach of U.S.power.
Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice saidFriday Bush had not yet made up his mind on the waiver.
Despite efforts by some Democratic lawmakers, Bush hasvowed to oppose any effort to weaken sanctions against Cuba.
"It is wrong to prop up a regime that routinely stifles allthe freedoms that make us human," Bush said.
"The United States stands opposed to such tyranny and willoppose any attempt to weaken sanctions against the Castroregime until it respects the basic human rights of itscitizens, frees political prisoners, holds democratic freeelections, and allows free speech."
The United States has kept an economic embargo on Cubasince soon after Castro's 1959 revolution. Congress softenedsanctions last year to allow food and medicine sales.