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Monday, July 24, 2000

Sanctions on Cuba
may soon be history

Bullet The issue: Both houses of Congress have passed measures on trade with Cuba and blocking enforcement of the ban on travel.
Bullet Our view: Those restrictions belong to another period in history and should be abolished.

AMERICAN sanctions against Cuba are in danger as never before in their four-decade history. Both houses of Congress have approved bills that would relax limits on trade with Cuba and prevent the federal government from enforcing a ban on travel to the island.

The Senate voted 79-13 for a $75.3 billion agriculture spending bill that includes an amendment to allow the export of U.S. food and medicine. The House voted 301-116 to prevent the government from enforcing restrictions on such exports and approved a measure to deny funding for enforcement of travel limits.

Although the Republican leadership has opposed weakening the trade embargo, the votes showed that a majority of lawmakers support such action. Hawaii's Senator Akaka recently visited Havana and came back calling for an end to the embargo.

As Bloomberg News Service reported, the House measures were included in a $29 billion bill that funds the Treasury Department and Postal Service. The Treasury Department determines whether U.S. citizens may travel to Cuba or if companies are authorized to make sales.

The House approved a $75.3 billion version of the farm spending measure earlier this month. The administration has threatened to veto both spending bills.

President Clinton has said he doesn't favor the sanctions measure, which also would ease restrictions on sales to Iran, Sudan, Libya and North Korea. A White House spokesman explained that Clinton supports food sales to Cuba but not "language that limits the president's ability to conduct foreign policy."

The version of the agriculture spending bill passed by the House omitted the food and medicine measure after House Speaker Dennis Hastert, other Republican leaders and Cuban-American legislators who had opposed it reached a compromise with George Nethercutt, R-Wash., a leader of the move to relax sanctions.

The compromise would prohibit the government or U.S. banks from offering credits or loans to help finance the sale of food or medicine to Cuba. It also would strengthen restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens.

The Senate, in contrast, didn't even debate its sanctions provision, which passed without opposition.

Just what will emerge as law from this flurry of legislative action isn't certain. But the intent is clear. Congress realizes that the embargo and travel ban belong to an era that ended with the collapse of Soviet imperialism. All that remains is clearing away the debris.

Indonesian President
Wahid losing support

Bullet The issue: President Abdurrahman Wahid faces growing dissatisfaction with his government.
Bullet Our view: Wahid must try to mollify his critics or risk an attempt to oust him.

IT was only last October when Abdurrahman Wahid, a respected Muslim scholar, was elected president of Indonesia by the nation's highest legislative body, the Peoples' Consultative Assembly.

It was hoped that Wahid would usher in an era of peace and democracy after the upheavals of recent years that resulted in the ouster of former President Suharto amid riots and economic collapse. Prior to Wahid's selection, Indonesia had experienced its first free parliamentary elections in decades.

Disillusionment has been swift. Wahid's erratic style of administration combined with unruly behavior by his inexperienced cabinet has undermined his presidency. Meanwhile Indonesia's economic crisis continues exacerbated by widespread unrest and sectarian violence.

Wahid is widely respected for his integrity and erudition. But he had no experience in government before his election and knows little about economics. Two strokes have left him virtually blind; his ability to continue in office for long in view of his poor health is questionable. His seemingly impulsive manner of making -- and unmaking -- decisions has shaken confidence.

Dissatisfaction with the president boiled over last week when angry legislators jeered and booed him in parliament after he refused to explain why he fired two economics ministers three months ago.

Wahid's critics have accused him of breaching promises to be democratically accountable. He maintains that he has acted within his constitutional rights as president.

The dispute boils down to the question of whether legislators can question the president's actions and ultimately remove him from office. Wahid accuses members of the political elite of trying to depose him but says he is "not worried." He maintains that he can be impeached only if he violates the constitution or "betrays the state."

One of the country's major political parties, Golkar, has threatened to withdraw from Wahid's coalition cabinet. Leaders of the party, which supported Suharto's 32-year rule, said they thought they would be more effective as an opposition party rather than part of the current government. Withdrawal of Golkar could spell more trouble for a leader who seems to be losing his grip.

Unless Wahid manages to mend his political fences, he may indeed face an attempt to remove him. That could hasten Indonesia's slide into chaos.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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