By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 1999; Page B01
"None of this will make any difference to my relatives in Cuba," said Fernandez, who directs a Virginia-based advocacy group called Casa Cuba. And the easing of the trade embargo, he complained, is being initiated even though Cuban dissidents have been beaten on live television in recent weeks and five Cuban diplomats have been expelled from the United States on suspicion of spying.
"So why do we turn around and reward them?" he asked angrily.
But to Jorge du Brueil, a retired Cuban American educator in Rockville, the administration's move is a "very modest beginning" toward his dream of normalizing U.S. relations with his homeland -- and ultimately dropping the 37-year American embargo against its communist government.
"It doesn't get to the heart of the problem, but I'd rather have things going in this direction than the opposite," said du Brueil, a board member of the nonprofit Committee for Cuban Democracy. "A lot of people in the United States don't know the real story about what's happening in Cuba, and if more of them start flying down there, it may lead to other things."
Like every change in American policy toward Cuba, the administration's latest shift is being hotly debated among the Washington region's estimated 10,000 Cuban Americans. Some see it as a victory for anti-Castro groups that successfully pressed officials not to ease restrictions even further; others see it as a victory for pro-detente groups that argue that more open channels will inevitably weaken Castro's rule.
The new policy will allow any U.S. resident to send up to $1,200 a year to private Cuban citizens, increase charter flights between Cuban and American cities, establish direct mail service and allow American companies to sell food and agricultural products to private groups in Cuba.
The administration also is permitting the Baltimore Orioles to visit Cuba this spring for an exhibition game with the Cuban national team, which will be allowed to travel to Baltimore for a similar event.
"I am content because this will show ordinary Cubans the generosity of the American people, and give them a chance to integrate more in the world," said Eduardo Barada, co-owner of the Habana Village nightclub in the District, who has hosted numerous performances by visiting Cuban musicians.
Virginia Schofield, a Cuban American artist in the District who is active in the Committee for Cuban Democracy, praised the administration for opening up mail service. But she said anything short of lifting the embargo will bring little real change in Cuba.
"What the administration has done is pretty miserly," she argued. In recent weeks, she said, a panel of prominent Americans sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations has called for a review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, and a similar commission has been proposed by members of Congress. "I think they are just throwing a bone at them, but in concrete terms it is just a tiny little opening."
Frank Calzon, a Cuban American who directs the District-based Center for a Free Cuba, warned that some of the provisions of the new U.S. policy may not be agreed to by Castro's government and that others could benefit Cuban officials more than citizens.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Calzon said. Havana, he argued, is not likely to accept direct mail service from the United States because it would lose millions of dollars in fees from private shipping services. And if American athletes start traveling to Cuba, he added, "they should go tell Castro to stop persecuting Cuban ballplayers for their views."
The worst thing, Calzon said, is that the U.S. proposal "raises false expectations. They say they will sell food to small, self-employed buyers, but how will they get the money to buy it? So far, the Cuban government won't even let the Catholic church buy wholesale milk."
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