WASHINGTON -- Some of Cuban President Fidel Castro's most severe critics are becoming impatient because there has been no discernible toughening of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
One even said President Bush's first year in office was little more than an extension of Clinton era policies toward the island.
It turns out, however, that the Bush team is just getting warmed up. One reason a more assertive policy may be in the offing was the installation in January of Cuban-born Otto J. Reich as the State Department's top official for Latin America.
He joins other Cuban-Americans in key positions who, like Reich, have viewed Castro as a menace for years.
Shortly after Reich took office, the administration began a policy review of Cuba with a view toward determining Cuba's potential for damaging U.S. interests.
One issue under study, according to a senior official, is the role Washington says Cuba plays in international terrorism. Cuba is on the State Department terrorist country list, a designation based on ties Cuba maintains with other countries on the list, including Iraq, and the haven Cuba provides for foreigners linked to alleged terrorist organizations.
As a result of the policy review, the Cuba section of the next State Department terrorism report, due next month, may add to the rationale for keeping Cuba on the list.
A key unanswered question is what action the administration would take against Cuba if the policy review concludes the island represents a genuine threat to American interests.
Castro argues that Cuba has been the victim of a Miami-based terrorism campaign that dates back 40 years and has claimed, he says, thousands of lives.
In December, Cuba offered to share intelligence with the United States on terrorism but the proposal was never taken seriously.
As part of the policy review, officials also are considering a possible indictment of Castro for the 1996 shootdown by MiG fighters of two Miami-based private planes near Cuban air space. Three U.S. citizens and one resident alien were killed.
The administration weighed the indictment option last year, and the senior official said the matter has not been dropped. One unresolved issue is whether a foreign head of state can be indicted.
Also on the agenda is whether Cuba is developing a potential to use the Internet to interrupt U.S. military communications. Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress a year ago that Cuba has the potential to use "information warfare or computer network attack" to disrupt "our access or flow of forces to the region."
There has been no public comment on the subject since then but the senior official, discussing the Cuba situation on condition of not being identified by name, said the issue is still alive. Castro has ridiculed Wilson's suggestions as "craziness."
At a time when the administration is poised to tighten up on Cuba, many in Congress want to back off. Farm state lawmakers want to be able to sell their products to Cuba on credit. They believe this would lead to a significant expansion of the of the cash-only trade that has been legal since 2000 and has netted only about $40 million in sales thus far.
More worrisome to the administration is a proposal before Congress to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba. This would give Castro an economic shot in the arm at a time when his country has been reeling from the effects of Hurricane Michelle, which struck last November.
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