ACCESSION NUMBER:383588 FILE ID:LEF418 DATE:03/16/95 TITLE:ADMINISTRATION, PRIVATE GROUPS ASSAIL CASTRO REGIME (03/16/95) TEXT:*95031618.GAR *LEF418 03/16/95 ADMINISTRATION, PRIVATE GROUPS ASSAIL CASTRO REGIME TR95031618 (Watson discusses proposed Cuban Liberty Act) bc (760) By Bruce Carey USIA Staff Writer WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration and private groups told Congress March 16 that establishment of democracy and restoration of human rights in Cuba remains the goal even as Fidel Castro's regime continues to threaten its neighbors. Alexander Watson, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, told lawmakers that President Clinton and his advisers agree with Congress that the Castro dictatorship is a U.S. enemy. But Watson said he disagreed on some of the provisions of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD) now being considered on Capitol Hill, parts of which he said could damage U.S. policy objectives rather than help move Cuba towards democracy. "Human rights and democracy are the core of our policy towards Cuba," Watson told the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee. He said the Clinton administration "looks forward to the day when the Cuban people can enjoy the freedoms that most of the other countries of the hemisphere now recognize as fundamental human rights. We were pleased to see that again this year the United Nations Human Rights Commission voted by a wide margin to condemn the human rights situation in Cuba, this time with new support from a number of our Latin neighbors." Watson stressed that the administration supports the goal of the 1993 Cuban Democracy Act, which is "the peaceful transition to democracy on the island. The CDA guides our policy, which is to maintain firm pressure on the Cuban government for peaceful change by denying legitimacy and resources to the Castro regime through economic sanctions, while reaching around the regime to the Cuban people through humanitarian donations." "We strongly believe that the embargo is the best leverage we have to promote change in Cuba, and that it is working," especially now that Havana is no longer receiving foreign aid because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Watson said. 1ut he added that some provisions of LIBERTAD, which is meant to support the goals of the CDA, would hurt rather than help Cuban liberty and U.S. national interests. The legislation was introduced in February Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was co-sponsored by 19 other senators of both political parties. One questionable provision would require the president to withhold from Russia the amount of aid it provides Cuba in return for use of the Lourdes signal intelligence facility. This could limit the U.S. ability to promote reform in Russia, said Watson. Another provision would bar entry into the United States of sugar from third countries which import Cuban sugar. This would violate U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement, Watson said. Such a ban might also be viewed as a secondary boycott similar to that imposed by Arab countries on third countries that trade with Israel -- a policy long opposed by Washington. These and certain other elements of the proposed legislation, Watson said, would deny the president the flexibility to determine if and how much Cuba is moving toward democracy, and what to do to support that transition. The absence of presidential discretionary power in matters involving the economic embargo and mandatory sanctions is liable to do more damage than good to important policy objectives. Another witness was Frank Calzon of Freedom House, who said Cuba "will face another disastrous sugar crop this year...and it is almost impossible for a Cuban without some links to the regime to obtain a job in a hotel or a foreign enterprise." And Castro's severe repression has not been lifted, he said. "The regime has renewed efforts to pressure human rights leaders to leave Cuba. Castro has even offered to release several human rights leaders currently in prison on the condition that they go directly to the airport and into exile. Some continue to refuse, and remain in prison." Retired Col. Juan Armando Montes -- a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer and currently president of the Cuban American Veterans association -- said Castro is still a military threat to the Western Hemisphere. "The Cuban armed forces strategic capabilities remain formidable," he said. "Castro's armed forces have the capability to launch a well-coordinated surprise attack on any Caribbean neighbor. "Even a small force (could) choke points in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the approaches to the Panama Canal vital to our shipping lanes." NNNN .