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Trump Cracks Down on Cuba, Venezuela   04/18 06:36

   CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- The Trump administration on Wednesday intensified 
its crackdown on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, rolling back Obama 
administration policy and announcing new restrictions and sanctions against the 
three countries whose leaders national security adviser John Bolton dubbed the 
"three stooges of socialism."

   "The troika of tyranny --- Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua --- is beginning to 
crumble," Bolton said in a hard-hitting speech near Miami on the 58th 
anniversary of the United States' failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island, an 
attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

   The measures seem likely to hit hardest in Cuba, which is at a moment of 
severe economic weakness as it struggles to find cash to import basic food and 
other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela and a string of bad years 
in other key economic sectors.

   Bolton announced a new cap on the amount of money that families in the 
United States can send their relatives in Cuba. The Obama administration had 
lifted limits on remittances, but the new limit will be $1,000 per person per 
quarter. Remittances to Cuba from the United States amounted to $3 billion in 
2016, according to the State Department.

   Washington also moved to restrict "non-family travel" after a broad 
loosening of so-called purposeful visits under Obama led to soaring numbers of 
American trips for cultural and educational exchanges. Details on the 
restrictions were not immediately clear, but tourism is a key lifeline of hard 
currency for Cuba. Bolton called such visits "veiled tourism."

   Bolton spoke hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new 
policy allowing lawsuits against foreign firms operating on properties Cuba 
seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution. The United States has enforced 
a trade embargo against Cuba since the early 1960s.

   Cuban officials met the announcements with defiance.

   "Nobody will snatch away from us, neither through seduction nor force, 'the 
Fatherland that our parents won for us by standing up,'" President Miguel 
Daz-Canel said via Twitter. "We Cubans will not surrender."

   Foreign Minister Bruno Rodrguez called it an attack on international law, 
Cuban sovereignty and countries that would do business with the island: 
"Aggressive escalation by (hashtag)US against Cuba will fail. Like at Giron, we 
will be victorious," he tweeted, referring to a Bay of Pigs beach where 
invaders landed.

   "We will always be willing to have a dialogue based on absolute respect, but 
if the U.S. government has chosen a confrontational path we will not hesitate 
to defend the gains of the revolution at any cost," Rodrguez later said on 
state television.

   On Venezuela, Bolton said Washington was sanctioning the country's Central 
Bank, which the Trump administration says has been instrumental in propping up 
the embattled government of President Nicols Maduro. The sanctions do not bar 
humanitarian aid or private remittances and aim to ensure reliability of debit 
and credit card transactions, which have become essential amid skyrocketing 
inflation and a shortage of cash notes.

   Maduro called the move the latest example of "imperialist aggression." In a 
nationally broadcast TV appearance, he said any nation's central bank is 
"sacred" and deserves respect.

   "I see imperialism as crazy, desperate," Maduro said.

   Bolton also announced sanctions against financial services provider Bancorp, 
which he claimed is a "slush fund" for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

   "The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid 
triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua," Bolton said in 
South Florida, which is home to many thousands of exiles and immigrants from 
the three countries.

   He said Obama administration policies had given the Cuban government 
"political cover to expand its malign influence" across the region, including 
in Venezuela. Cuba has trained Venezuelan security forces to repress civilians 
and support Maduro, Bolton said, calling Maduro "quite simply a Cuban puppet."

   Bolton's pledge to "never, ever abandon" the people of Cuba, Venezuela and 
Nicaragua in their fight for freedom also might ring hollow in light of the 
historical events he sought to highlight at the event hosted by the Bay of Pigs 
Veterans Association.

   Many Cuban Americans to this day resent the late President John F. Kennedy 
for not deploying American troops at a critical moment in the Bay of Pigs 
invasion.

   Meanwhile, with the high stakes of the Cold War a fading memory, some 
critics of U.S. policy toward Venezuela worry the Trump administration's stance 
that all options are on the table, including a military one, to oust Maduro is 
an empty threat that will only serve to ignite the streets and geopolitical 
tensions with Russia, compounding the misery of Venezuelan citizens.

   "Honoring one of U.S.' greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests 
U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia 
than practical benefits for people of the region," said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin 
American director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think 
tank.

   Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, said in a statement 
that the measures on remittances and travel threaten the economic survival of 
Cuban families and the viability of thousands of independent small businesses 
allowed to operate since 2010 under reforms implemented by former President 
Ral Castro.

   "The only winners here are a handful of members of Congress and those stuck 
in the past that support them," Laverty said. "The losers are millions of 
Cubans on and off the island and the overwhelming majority of Americans that 
support engagement with Cuba."

   Many of the 400 or so who paid $100 to attend Bolton's speech at the 
Biltmore in South Florida were of Cuban descent. Rafael UsaTorres, a member of 
the 2506 Brigade that worked for the CIA at the time of the invasion, said he 
has faith the measures will bring down Daz-Canel's government, though he 
wished it had been done sooner.

   "Today is a big day," the 78-year-old said. "But I feel very sad --- too 
many years waiting."

   Others said Washington isn't going far enough. Manuel Menendez-Pou, 79, said 
the Cuban government had confiscated some $63 million in property from his 
family, once one of the wealthiest on the island, mainly in the sugar industry.

   "The problem is not the money," Menendez-Pou, also a former member of the 
brigade, said minutes before the speech. "They stole our life."

   In Havana, homemaker Odalis Salazar worried about the future of remittances 
she receives from two children living abroad, including one in the United 
States.

   "It hurts everyone and Trump is absolutely criminal, because he knows that 
... (the remittances) help us a lot," Salazar said. "We Cubans have families 
there and we get by largely with that help that they send us."

   Pompeo's decision on allowing lawsuits lets Americans, including Cubans who 
became naturalized citizens, sue companies that operate out of hotels, tobacco 
factories, distilleries and other properties nationalized after Fidel Castro 
took power.

   Pompeo said he would not renew a bar on litigation that has been in place 
for two decades, meaning lawsuits can be filed starting May 2, when the current 
suspension expires.

   The Justice Department has certified roughly 6,000 claims as having merit, 
said Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas. Those claims have 
an estimated value of $8 billion: $2 billion in property and $6 billion in 
interest, she said.

   An additional 200,000 uncertified claims could run into the tens of billions 
of dollars, she said.

   Breier said there would be no exceptions to the policy, but foreign 
companies "will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on 
properties taken from Americans."

   Nonetheless, companies in the European Union and Canadian companies stand to 
lose tens of billions in compensation and interest, and the decision prompted 
stern responses and vows to protect businesses from lawsuits.

   In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Canadian 
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called the decision to remove the 
longstanding waivers "regrettable" and said it "can only lead to an unnecessary 
spiral of legal actions."

   In Spain, which has large investments in hotels and other tourism-related 
ventures on the island, a senior government official said Madrid would ask the 
EU to mount a challenge at the World Trade Organization.

   "The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal and 
violates international law," said Alberto Navarro, EU ambassador to Cuba.


(KA)

 
 
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