In a White House Rose Garden ceremony Friday, President George W. Bush announced the formation of a special policy group that would recommend ways to reduce and eventually eliminate the threat posed by the regime of Fidel Castro.
Flanked by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, the president indicated his intention to bring forward plans "for the happy day when Castro’s regime is no more and free trade comes to the island."
President Bush announced his intention to submit legislation to Congress entitled the Tobacco Patriot and Assistance Act of 2003, which would offer a combination of production and education training subsidies, tax breaks and military threats to revive the production of cigars within the continental 48 contiguous States of America.
The president said this legislation would allow small American producers of "Laurencio Double Corona, La Eminencia Premier, President, Torpedo, Wilshire Maduro and Churchill cigars to compete against the influx of illegal Cuban imports by encouraging expanded production and the training and employment of dozens of new domestic, American cigar rollers."
Mr. Bush cited 9/11 as an example of the foreign dangers that threaten Americans, dangers Mr. Bush believes are presented by the current policies of the Cuban government. Encouraging Americans to support his latest initiative, the president recalled the words of Todd Beamer, a passenger on United Flight 93, telling the assembled audience "lets roll."
Bush also said the United States would step up enforcement of existing restrictions against the communist government, such as banning tourism by Americans, and cracking down on what he called the trafficking of women and children in Cuba, who are widely believed to act as smugglers, known as "tobacco mules" within the trade. The United States also will launch a public outreach campaign to identify and create safe routes to legal entry for skilled Cuban cigar rollers who try to flee their homeland, the president said.
"We’ll increase the number of new Cuban immigrants we welcome every year," Bush added. "We are free to do so, and we will for the good of those who seek freedom fags." The latter is a reference to the growing patriotic designation for all tobacco products grown in the United States.
"I will not stand-by while the worlds worst cigar-producing regime continues to addict the world’s freest people." the President emphasized as he thumped the lectern. "America and its coalition allies will not rest while the safety of the American people and the world is threatened by the Fidel Castro tobaccoist regime."
The president predicted dire consequences if Congress did not act upon his recommendations. "The dire threat to the American way of life posed by the Cuban regime is a constant and pervasive threat."
"The American people know the peril that confronts the imbibers of Cuban tobacco products, and I will not allow this country and our people to be threatened by any hint of temptation."
"The American people can’t give into negativism and defeatism. We need to get ready, to get together and get rolling!"
Several of Mr. Bush’s most ardent supporters, in particular Wilhelm Krystal, Franklin Gaffer and television personality Bill O’Malley have publicly criticized "those countries that allow the sale of Cuban tobacco products," singling out for emphasis Canada and France, who are known opponents of the Bush administrations tobacco policies.
Representatives from Congress, the Miami community of exiled tobacco rollers in that vote-rich swing state crucial in the 2004 presidential election, and other anti-Castro, pro-tobacco groups were briefed in advance of Friday’s official announcement.
Secretary of State Powell has been trying to enlist other countries in the administrations efforts to curb Cuban cigar smuggling, most recently in a June speech in Chile to an assembly of Organization of American States foreign ministers.
Asked for comment, the head of Cuba’s diplomatic mission here, Dagoberto Rodriguez, said Thursday that Bush should "stop acting like a lawless cowboy, start listening to the voices of the nations of the world, take a smoke and relax a little."
In speeches in Miami and Washington last year, Mr. Bush said the 40-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba will remain in force until the island ceases its attempts to undermine American cigar production and cracks down on the smuggling of cigars and cigar rollers.
In the questions that followed the press opportunity, the President pointedly criticized the tobacco trade media, which he characterized as the "tobacco leaf rags," for "creating out of thin air the ridiculous notion that Cuban cigars are superior to American-made cigars."
In remarks later that day, leading Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean remarked that this "smacked of another payoff to the Bush administrations big tobacco backers." Congressmen Richard Gephardt criticized the proposed legislation as "potentially a miserable failure" while arguing that the level of subsidies did not go far enough. Well-known cigar smoker Rush Limbaugh was unavailable for comment.