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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
Who lobbies Bush on Cuba?

By Justin Webb
BBC Washington correspondent

Havana, Cuba
There is an old saying that all politics is local. On the subject of America and Cuba the saying is spot on.

Does President George W Bush walk the anti-Castro walk and talk the anti-Castro talk because he genuinely cares two hoots about the dictator in Havana? Probably not.

It is true that the two leaders do not see eye to eye on a broad range of issues but that does not explain the Bush obsession with "freedom" in Cuba (as opposed to "freedom" in, say Saudi Arabia, or Egypt).

The Bush view of Fidel Castro is shaped in Miami, Florida, where anti-Castro Cuban Americans continue to batter away at their old enemy and continue to vote (so the conventional wisdom goes) for anyone who joins their struggle.

Bush sanctions plea

Florida - you will remember - was a rather important state in the last presidential election.

It took the Supreme Court to decide who had won the state and thus the right to govern the US.

Next time the Bush people are keen that the court should not have to get involved. Florida must be sewn up.

So any suggestion of reducing sanctions is anathema to the White House - indeed the president recently announced that he wanted to see them tightened.

The president is particularly keen to see American tourists - with their wallets stuffed with dollars - kept away from Cuba.

'Anachronistic battle'

In theory violators of the travel ban to Cuba can face criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison.

Plenty of congressmen think that is crazy. Particularly since the end of the Cold War and the end - in most of the world - of communism.

In a world where there are new battles to be fought with much more frightening enemies the fight against Fidel Castro looks more and more anachronistic.

There are more important things for the law enforcement authorities to be doing with their time than, as one congressman put it, than "chasing grandmothers who use a travel agent in Canada to go and ride bicycles in Cuba".

Market potential

But all politics is local. And plenty of the anti-sanctions folk have their own local agendas as well.

Chief among them are Republicans who represent farm states and see the juicy prospect of the American food industry getting the chance to trade with Havana.

They and their supporters are no friends of Castro but they believe in making bucks rather that points.

Who will win? The president has the power to veto the congressional doubters and keep the sanctions in place.

If he wins next year's presidential election and Florida is an important part of that victory then he will be vindicated.

If he loses or Florida does not play a key role - look for Fidel Castro to be swamped, finished off - by a tidal wave of American tourists.

Senate votes to end Cuba ban
24 Oct 03  |  Americas
US to tighten Cuba sanctions
10 Oct 03  |  Americas
Cuba revolution hits 50 years
25 Jul 03  |  Americas
Timeline: US-Cuba relations
10 Oct 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Cuba
04 Jun 03  |  Country profiles

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