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Democratic senators reject Bush's policy on Cuba

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three Senate Democrats criticized President Bush's vow Monday to keep the trade and travel bans on Cuba in place, with one calling his proposals "much ado about nothing."

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said she supported the trade embargo, now 40 years old, during the Cold War era, but "It certainly doesn't make sense now."

She and senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota praised the recent historic trip to Havana by former President Jimmy Carter, supporting his recommendation that the embargoes be lifted.

"The specific package of proposals announced by the administration is much ado about nothing, quite candidly," Dodd said.

Bush said the bans should remain in effect until Cuba initiates political and economic reforms.

He said his administration will ease restrictions on humanitarian assistance to Cuba by U.S. religious and non-governmental organizations, providing such groups "with direct assistance" that could be used for humanitarian and entrepreneurial activities.

Bush said he is "willing to negotiate direct mail service between the United States and Cuba," and he said the United States will offer scholarships for some Cuban students and professionals who "try to build independent civil institutions in Cuba," as well as some for family members of political prisoners.

"Direct mail service is not likely to happen without cooperation from the Cuban government, nor the scholarship programs for Cuban students. Humanitarian assistance by non-governmental organizations is already ongoing," Dodd said.

"Throwing worn-out wallpaper on a cracked foundation just doesn't work. The Bush administration proposal amounts to nothing more than that. Don't solve the problem, just end up with more rhetoric. We need a fundamental change in the way we look at Cuba," Dodd added.

Referring to Carter's visit, Dodd said, it "demonstrated that an honest and respectable discussion of differences between the United States and Cuba is possible."

He said Carter rightly called on Cuba to respect human rights and to allow for freedom of expression, and said the U.S. policies toward the Communist nation aren't moving Cuba toward those changes.

"Information kills darkness. Light kills darkness. As long as we don't allow information and people to move into a place like Cuba, you are just assisting Fidel Castro to stay in power," Dodd said.

"The quickest way to change the government there is to bring in the light. Dictators can't stand light, and we are contributing to the darkness by not allowing [U.S. sales of] food, medicine and travel to occur."

Dorgan said the embargo and travel bans merely punish American citizens, some of whom want to trade with Cuba or use circuitous means to visit Cuba, by traveling through other countries to get there.

He said the United States should apply the same policies of engagement to encourage changes in Cuba as it does with other nations.

In Atlanta, the director of the Americas Program at the Carter Center was critical of the speech. "Overall, it's a continuation of a strategy of conditionality that, in the past, has led to a defensive reaction within Cuba rather than the opening that we're looking for," said Jennifer McCoy, who is also a professor of political science at Georgia State University




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