Anti-Cuban Embargo Group Begins Operations in Washington

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - Several former diplomats from Republican administrations have formed a new organization called the "Cuba Policy Foundation" to lobby against the decades-old U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation.

Sally Grooms Cowal, a former deputy assistant secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush in the 1980s, serves as president of the organization. She described the new group as being "non-ideological" and devoted to examining all aspects of Cuba policy.

"There's a real need for a new centrist group, not left-leaning activists and not just business interests," Cowal said.

Cowal allowed 7-year-old Elian Gonzales, his father, and several Castro government officials to stay in her Washington home last year when the custody battle involving Elian was at its height. Elian returned to Cuba with his father last June.

Radio Havana, the official voice of the Castro government, commended Cowal's efforts in starting the Cuba Policy Foundation in a broadcast last Thursday.

"The Cuba Policy Foundation has challenged the ultra-right-wing Cuban-American National Foundation to a public debate concerning the merits of Washington's blockade of Cuba," the broadcast said.

The communist radio station quoted Cowal as saying, "there is a silent majority, including Cuban Americans, that does not support Washington's positions regarding Cuba."

According to the broadcast, Cowal said the lack of dialogue with Havana is undermining Washington's principle interests in the Caribbean, which are immigration and drug trafficking.

Bankrolling the organization is the Arca Foundation, chaired by Smith Bagley, a grandson of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds and a major contributor to the Democratic Party.

Cowal said she wrote the Cuban American National Foundation, proposing a series of joint forums to debate Cuba policy. CANF Washington Director Jose Cardenas rejected the idea.

"This groups looks like old wine in new bottles, and they're selling a defective product that no one is buying in Washington," Cardenas said.

Both President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have stated that the economic embargo against Cuba will stay in effect as long as Castro remains in power.