WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of State has decided to delay the clarification and implementation of the new rules about Cuba travel and spending restrictions after the announcement in May sent a shock wave through the Cuban-American community.
"We had talked about a June 1 date at one point," Daniel Fisk, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department, said Wednesday. "But at this point it looks like it's going to be June 30 by the time the regulations are promulgated, published and take effect."
Critics of the new policies, which limit how much Cuban Americans can spend when they visit their families and how often they can visit them, say that the outpouring of dissent from Florida coupled with the spiraling paperwork created by the new policies have fueled the delay.
"The U.S. government did not realize that they did not have the support of the Cuban-American community in Miami when they issued the report," Sylvia Wilhelm, a Cuban American with family in Cuba, told United Press International. "There has been a tremendous number of complaints pouring into Washington from Miami."
The Bush administration announced May 6 a series of measures that it says will hasten the end of Cuba's communist government.
The measures -- mostly economic -- are part of recommendations made by the 500-page report drafted by the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, a body set up by Bush last Oct. 10. The panel's measures are aimed at loosening the grip Fidel Castro has on Cuba, an island he has ruled since 1959, and preparing the nation for democratic transition.
The new policy tightens the current limits of one visit a year, to one visit every three years. It also limits the remittances Cuban Americans can send to relatives in Cuba: Cuban-Americans can now only send money back to "family" members, limitedly defined as immediate family. including grandparents, grandchildren, parents, siblings, spouses and children.
In 2003, 167,710 Cubans residing abroad traveled to Cuba, compared to 35,000 in 1994; of them, 115,142 traveled from the United States.
Since the announcement on May 6, different reactions have erupted out of the Cuban-American stronghold community in Miami. For the political hard-liners in south Florida, President Bush's new initiatives toward Cuba gave them most of what they wanted.
"They took some of the central parts of the points we have been making. We are tremendously pleased," Joe Garcia, executive director of the powerful Cuban American National Foundation, said just after the release of the report.
But other members of the Cuban-American community, who insist they are increasingly the majority, have reacted with significant outrage over the ways they say the U.S. government is unjustly interfering with the Cuban family.
Most infuriating, some Cuban Americans say, is the provision in the regulations that retroactively restricts travel to Cuba within the three-year mandate. This means that if a Cuban American traveled to Cuba in 2003, they will not be able to go again until 2006.
"An individual can decide when they want to travel once every three years and the decision is up to them. So if they have a dying relative, they have to figure out when they want to travel," Fisk said on Wednesday, regarding the three-year stipulation.
On May 20, over 500 people in Miami joined the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights to protest the restrictions.
"President Bush's new Cuban sanctions policy creates more hardship for Cuban Americans, his voting constituency, than to the Cuban government and opens itself up to serious discriminatory legal actions, aside from loss of votes," the CACFR said in a statement.
According to Wilhelm, the May 20 protest helped to mobilize the thousands of Cuban Americans who would be immediately affected by the restrictions when they go into effect July 1.
"It is very easy to mobilize people because everyone is incensed," Wilhelm said.
The U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, the office responsible for enforcing travel and commercial restrictions with Cuba, would not confirm whether the reaction from the Cuban-American community has affected the delay or will affect the restrictions themselves.
"It is an interagency working process between the White House, the State Department and OFAC. We are working to make sure the regulations are the strongest and most appropriate regulations in place," said Molly Millerwise, spokeswoman with OFAC.
But according to information obtained by United Press International from a travel industry executive who handles trips to Cuba and who recently met with OFAC, the U.S. government may be "grandfathering in" some new clauses into the regulations. The changes could include exemptions for relatives with plans to travel in the near future who are unable to get refunds on their travel.
Even if the agencies make minor adjustments to accommodate Cuban families, the worst is yet to come for the Bush administration from the Cuban-American community, according to Wilhelm.
"It's not truly going to hit the community until people call to find out about their travel on July 1 and they are told they are not eligible," Wilhelm said. "Then, the political strategy (of the policies) will backfire."