If you thought that Bush was being craven and cruel to Cuban exiles by cutting back on allowable visits by family members to Cuba, take a look at what a Florida state representative is proposing.
A Miami Republican who prodded President Bush to get tougher on Fidel Castro is one-upping the president: He’s proposing to strip food stamps and health insurance from those who travel to the island.
Dubbed the “Travel and Commerce with Terrorist Nations Act,” a bill proposed by State Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, would punish those who travel — even legally — to Cuba by cutting off access to Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance for a year.
Rivera said the legislation is aimed at stopping recent arrivals who come to the United States, apply for benefits and then travel back to visit Cuba.
Though such travel is legal, Rivera argues that the money spent on the island only helps prop up Cuban leader Castro.
“It’s an issue of gratitude,” Rivera said at a news conference Tuesday. “People are sick and tired of people living here, taking advantage of taxpayer generosity and then providing financial support to the Castro regime by traveling back to the island.”
Under the bill, anyone who has lived in Florida for less than five years and travels to any country the U.S. Department of State lists as a sponsor of terrorism would be ineligible for state services for at least a year.
Besides Cuba, the countries include Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Sudan. Because direct charter flights from Florida to any of the other nations are essentially nonexistent, the bill ultimately applies only to Cuba.
The proposal illustrates the complicated landscape Bush faces as he tries to bolster his standing among the voting bloc of Cuban Americans who are key to his re-election effort.
Polls suggest that new restrictions that limit travel and cash remittances to families have been embraced by hard-line exiles, who had urged Bush to take a stronger stance against Castro or risk losing Cuban-American support at the polls in November.
Rivera was among a dozen legislators who wrote to Bush last summer, warning him that Cuban Americans would be less than enthusiastic about his re-election if he didn’t tighten sanctions on Castro. The new restrictions went into effect in late June.
But many younger Cuban Americans have decried the restrictions as too harsh, and Democrats have sought to court those voters, calling the restrictions harmful to families.
Several groups have vowed to launch voter registration drives to register younger Cuban Americans. [Miami Herald]
Thank you, Rep. Rivera, for all the new Cuban-American Democratic voters.