One important irritant is the ruling by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). It has ordained that Cuban-Americans may not visit their families in Cuba more often than once every three years, that they may not spend more than $50 per day, that they may not stay in Cuba for more than two weeks (this is Uncle Sam talking, not Fidel Castro), and that contributions to Cuban family members must be limited to $1,200 per household per year.
Nobody who keeps political tallies will deny that these initiatives are politically based. This conclusion derives from a general knowledge of the impotence of boycotts, and a particular knowledge of Castro's indomitability. So the pinpricks are not going to derail Castro; will they deliver Florida to Bush? That, of course, is the idea. If it's anti-Castro, the Cuban-American community is for it, right?
But not all Cuban-Americans will cheer. For one thing, the law is designed to prevent them from doing what some of them would otherwise do. Regulations of the kind promulgated by OFAC have no effect on people who do not plan to visit Cuba or to send money for Cuban relief. It can be held that the measures affect everyone concerned with a free Cuba -- if it could be established in which way they would tilt the Castro scene. If they weakened him, the world would benefit. If they strengthened him, then we would have bad politics bringing on bad days.
Some Cuban-Americans, who no longer have family ties to Cuba (Castro took power 45 years ago), have expressed resentment of those who feel free to travel to Havana. There are Cuban-Americans who believe that any traffic of any kind with Castro weakens the solidarity of U.S. policy.
But such policies haven't brought on reforms. No reform in Cuba is going to be effective except as it brings on the death or retirement of Castro. He is a monument of socialist dogma. In the early 1960s he chided Khrushchev for exhibiting less ideological rectitude than Mao Tse-tung. There isn't anything this side of a volcanic eruption while he is nesting in the volcano's crater that is going to get him to loosen up. The papal visit in 1998, to which so much hope was attached, had no permanent effect. Even the American Library Association simply gave up on a movement to gain liberty for jailed Cuban librarians.
There is a very high cost to Castro's obduracy. But the cost being paid is by Cubans. Over here, it is odd that a government that recognizes the government of Vietnam, and is ready and willing to send aid to Sudan and the Congo, should engage, for spite and politics, in denying to Cuban-Americans the right to gratify their own impulses.
There is resistance to this initiative of OFAC. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has for three years sponsored an amendment (the Flake Amendment) that seeks to forbid the use of federal funds to enforce the United States' anti-travel regulations. He recently succeeded in getting the Senate's endorsement of it. But that is still this side of the horsepower required to write the provisions into law. His own view is that the new OFAC regulations will cause net damage to Republican political interests in November.
The final irony is that Fidel Castro is being permitted, by Americans, to impinge on the freedom of Americans. That, at least, should please Castro, and he can ride about the country proclaiming his success in imposing on the lives of yet more Cubans, who hoped to be living in the land of the free.