GOP Gives President Some Cover on Cuba

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The Clinton administration formally approved a potentially controversial trip to Cuba this week by Tom Donohue, president of the powerful, Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Donohue's party will include Craig Fuller, George Bush's vice-presidential chief of staff, and it also has the blessing of staunchly conservative Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. These big GOP names should provide political cover for the White House and particularly Al Gore. The administration is currently expanding unofficial links to Havana, but is worried about opposition from many anti-Castro Cuban-American voters.

As for Donohue, he has pointedly not requested a meeting with Castro, although such a session is under discussion. As head of the chamber, he has strongly opposed unilateral American trade sanctions against any country, including Cuba. The tough-talking lobbyist is pushing hard to meet with Cuban entrepreneurs and lay the basis for an independent Chamber of Commerce in Havana. Should he fail, Donohue could still fly home with a consolation prize: Regulations allow him to reenter the U.S. with a box of Cuban cigars as long as they cost no more than $100. Alas, he doesn't smoke.