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Travel restrictions confound Boston-area Cubans

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  • Walter Lippmann
    (More and more it appears that the Bush administration has shot itself in the foot with the decisions which it made to even further restrict the rights of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2004
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      (More and more it appears that the Bush administration has shot itself
      in the foot with the decisions which it made to even further restrict
      the rights of the Cuban-Amerian community in the US to visit members
      of their families who continue to reside on the island. Re-definition
      of the Cuban family by the Bush administration, in a way which will
      achieve their political goal of reducing visitation by Cubans to their
      families, has caused such widespread dismay and opposition that it even
      registered with the editors of the Miami Herald in Sunday's edition:
      http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/breaking_news/8801306.htm )



      Travel restrictions confound Boston-area Cubans
      By Johnny Diaz, Globe Staff | June 1, 2004

      Many of Greater Boston's Cubans and Cuban-Americans have
      long straddled two political worlds, their protest against
      President Fidel Castro often competing with the financial
      support they send to relatives on the Caribbean island.

      Starting this month, new restrictions by the Bush
      administration on how often Cuban-Americans may visit
      relatives and how much aid they can take may further stress
      that political tug-of-war.

      The measures limit visits to once every three years instead
      of once a year. And distant relatives -- cousins, aunts,
      and uncles -- will be banned from visits. Travelers will
      still be allowed to visit their spouses, children,
      siblings, parents and grandparents.

      Some Cuban-Americans support the tougher regulations
      against Castro and see their implementation as a positive
      step to bringing democratic change to the country. Others
      say the clampdown on travel and aid may mean more hardship
      for their families, not for Castro.

      "It can be very devastating to the work we are doing," said
      Oswald Mondejar, a Boston resident who visits his homeland
      once a year to deliver medicine and Braille books to Cubans
      with disabilities. He is cofounder of a Boston-based
      charity called ACCESO -- Americans and Cubans Building
      Community Through Exchanges, Support and Outreach -- that
      delivered $80,000 worth of medical supplies and 7,000 books
      in February.

      Local charities and religious groups such as ACCESO that
      make yearly trips to the country say they are growing
      concerned over whether they will be able to return to the
      island when their travel licenses come up for renewal later
      this year.

      "We have touched lives through our work and developed
      important partnerships that we need to continue," said
      Mondejar, who has 10 relatives on the island. "We are just
      starting to make a difference."

      Bush's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba unveiled
      the provisions last month, saying the rules aim to curb the
      flow of American dollars to Cuba's communist government and
      to bring about a transition to democracy.

      The rules also limit luggage to 44 pounds per person and
      eliminate the possibility of purchasing extra baggage
      capacity. The measures reduce the amount of money Americans
      can spend in Cuba from $164 to $50 a day during a two-week

      The plans do not affect the amount each family can send to
      Cuba, which remains at about $1,200 annually. Overall,
      Americans send between $500 million and $750 million a year
      to relatives on the island.

      The amended family restrictions underscore a growing divide
      between older Cuban exiles and recent immigrants or those
      who were born in the United States. The initiatives have
      also sparked some protests. Last month in Miami, some Cuban
      exiles with deep political ties to the Republican party
      organized a rally against Bush's travel restrictions.

      They "go against the growing family reconciliations that
      have been going on for the past decade," said Uva de
      Aragon, assistant director of the Cuban Research Institute
      at Florida International University in Miami. "It's very
      ironic coming from an administration that seems to
      encourage family values. The concept of families for Cubans
      includes extended families, godparents, aunts, uncles,
      cousins. For Hispanics, your family is your family."

      Common Ground Education and Travel Services in Cambridge,
      which books educational and humanitarian trips to Cuba for
      Boston-area travelers, and other travel agencies have been
      circulating e-mails and letters over the Internet urging
      Cubans and their friends to write their lawmakers to show
      opposition to the policy.

      Religious groups that regularly visit Cuba also question
      whether they will be able to return there.

      "It remains to be seen," said Gary Hirsch and his wife,
      Linda, of Wayland, who traveled to the Cuban town of
      Cienfuegos, in February to aid a 35-member Jewish
      congregation there.

      For the past three years, the couple and members of
      Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley have been
      working with their Cuban counterparts to help them sustain
      their religion. Hirsch's long-term goal is to help Cuba's
      congregation find a permanent home for religious
      gatherings. The group has been meeting in a member's living

      "They still need a lot of help," Gary Hirsch said.

      Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@....

      C Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
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