Washington Babylon — March 4, 2008, 4:50 pm

Castro Departs but Engel Still Wields Power

With Fidel Castro giving up power in Cuba, might there be a change in American policy towards Havana, such as scrapping the ancient, spectacularly unsuccessful trade embargo? Probably not as long as Congressman Eliot Engel continues to wield power as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere

Engel, the generally liberal Democrat from New York, is a member of Congress’s Cuba Democracy Caucus, which seeks the maintenance of a hard-line approach to Cuba, including continued economic sanctions. Members of the caucus “have drawn up lists of lawmakers and their positions on Cuba,” said a story last year in the Miami Herald. “Those who are new to the issue or undecided get a full briefing…Others who have voted against easing sanctions in the past are pulled aside for a brief chat to make sure their position hasn’t changed.”

Engel has also received notable financial support from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, a pro-embargo group that has been described as “the loudest voice for Cuban exile politics.” During the past five years, the PAC has donated $13,000 to Engel, including $5,000 in the current election cycle. Members and contributors to the PAC have given another $7,550 to Engel since last year.

Engel will be holding a hearing on Cuba policy tomorrow. The witness list, not surprisingly, seems to be heavily tilted towards the conservative side. It includes Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, and Nancy Menges of the Center for Security Policy (the widow of Constantine Menges, a national security aide for Latin America during the Reagan Administration).

Engels’ donors will be pleased, no doubt.

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