The talk in Washington is that a recent shuffling of Bush administration appointments may indicate a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba. The San Jose Mercury News reports there have been four new appointments in positions that affect Cuba - and some folks are hoping it will mean an end to the wet foot/dry foot policy initiated by the Clinton administration.
That policy says that if Cubans escaping their island prison reach dry land in U.S. territory, he or she can stay and receive asylum. If a Cuban is picked up by authorities while still in the water, even if the water is only ankle deep, that person is returned to a sure prison term in Cuba. As critics point out, the U.S. never had such a policy with Europeans escaping communism - the policy has applied only to Cuba. CB at killcastroblog has begun a campaign to have the policy repealed - as he puts it, "Please Mr. Bush, Tear Down That Wall." Perhaps today's news indicates the administration is listening.
The new administration appointments are:
- Thomas Shannon - assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere. It's the region's top diplomatic post.
- Dan Fisk - takes over for Shannon at the Latin American team in the White House's National Security Council. Fisk formerly worked for Senator Jesse Helms and helped draft the Helms-Burton Act.
- Michael Parmley - takes over as head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The newspaper says Parmley is "catholic" and has made a point of frequently attending Mass in Havana. Now what does it mean by "catholic?" Does the reporter mean Roman Catholic, in which case the word should be capitalized? Or does he mean Parmley is an Episcopalian or a member of some other Protestant faith that considers itself a small-c catholic? If the latter, can those folks attend Mass in Havana? At any rate, he seems interested in building bridges with the Church - an organization that will be very important in a post-fidel Cuba.
- Stephen McFarland - is head of the Cuban affairs desk at the State Department. He's based in Washington.
Caleb McCarry took over as Cuban transition coordinator back in July. He's made comments about reforming the Commission For Assistance To A Free Cuba. Last year's Commission made recommendations that led to the new, tighter restrictions on trade - restrictions that require fidel to actually pay for food before it's delivered.
All, of course, are not convinced that new policies will affect fidel's government.
"None of the steps have the slightest possibility of bringing down the Castro government," said Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. mission in Cuba and now with the Center for International Policy, a Washington advocacy group.
Smith is a friend and advisor to former president Jimmy Carter. Enough said.
Update - Thanks to Val and killcastroblog - a Miami TV station is reporting that a lawyer there may be sueing the federal government over the wet foot/dry foot policy. The attorney represents the families of two women who drowned when their boat capsized in the Florida Straits. Unfortunately, the linked article is written by TV news people so there is nothing to indicate on what grounds the lawyer plans to sue.