MIAMI — An angry backlash has erupted in Miami’s “Little Havana” against George W. Bush’s new regulations sharply limiting Cuban Americans’ contacts with their families in Cuba.

“These people are out of their minds,” said Cuban-born Silvia Wilhelm, executive director of Puentes Cubanos, a Miami-based group that organizes people-to-people contacts between the U.S. and Cuba. “These regulations have nothing to do with democracy in Cuba and everything to do with election politics in America. They are totally un-American and anti-Cuban.”

The new rules reduce from once a year to once every three years how often Cuban Americans can visit their relatives in Cuba. It slashes from $181 per day to $50 per day the amount of cash they can spend in Cuba and makes it far more difficult to deliver the $100 monthly that Cuban Americans are permitted to send to their families in Cuba. The Cuban American community is also furious over Bush’s restrictive definition of “family.” Excluded are uncles, aunts, and cousins who are considered “immediate” in Cuba’s culture of extended families.

“After Hurricane Charley hit Cuba, I contacted my cousin,” said Wilhelm. “He was hysterical. Half the roof on his house was gone. But I am unable to help him under these regulations. I can’t help my cousin? How un-American!”

Adding to the outrage is a bill introduced by state Rep. David Rivera (R-Miami) that would strip Floridians who visit Cuba illegally of food stamps, state health insurance and other benefits, widely seen as an attempt to intimidate Cuban Americans.

Wilhelm said her group organized a conference in Cuba on behalf of the Foundation for Women’s Health with a counterpart organization in Cuba. The result was an international symposium on gender issues attended by 35 women from the U.S. with the plan to make it an ongoing project. Then the license was terminated and the project collapsed. “The bottom line is that the Bush administration wants no travel to Cuba, period,” Wilhelm said.

The regulations have triggered the biggest street demonstrations ever in Miami against policies that target Cuba. Nearly 400 Cuban Americans and their allies turned out for a May 20 news conference and 600 marched July 24 in front of Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart’s office demanding that the rules by rescinded. Balart, whose father was a high-ranking official in the Batista regime, authored the regulations embraced by George W. Bush. Foes of the regulations are now organizing a rally Oct. 3 that they hope will attract thousands. “When it is over we plan to register people to vote in the Nov. 2 election,” Wilhelm said.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Cuban Americans are switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Fernando Amandi, a lifelong Cuban American Republican, former executive of a Fortune 500 company, recently switched to the Democrats and is now serving as vice chairman of the Kerry campaign’s finance committee in Florida.

A poll by Miami International University of the Cuban American communities of Miami-Dade and Broward counties found support for Bush plummeting from just over 80 percent to 58.4 percent since the regulations were imposed. Bush carried 81 percent of the Cuban American vote in Florida in the stolen 2000 election. Fewer than 600 votes separated Bush and Al Gore in Florida. The same poll showed that a resounding 77 percent of Cuban Americans in South Florida believe the embargo of Cuba “has not worked” and 56 percent favor “dialogue” rather than attempts to starve Cuba into submission.

Tessie Aral, born in Cuba but raised in the U.S., is the vice president of ABC Charters. Over lunch at a Cuban restaurant here she told the World she is active in a coalition that is working to fill two cargo containers with 40,000 pounds of food, medicine, and other relief goods for victims of Hurricane Charley that devastated Cuba.

Until July her company was booking 450 or more Cuban Americans on charter flights to Havana every week. Now it is down to 50 a week. “These regulations were like a door slamming shut,” she told the World. “They are discriminatory because they affect only one minority group based on their ethnic origin. I am a Republican. I’m trying to put together a committee of Cuban American Republicans against these regulations. Some plan to vote for Kerry. … From Kerry’s record, I believe he is in favor of lifting these restrictions.”

Anna Limia, also of ABC Charters, was born in Cuba, daughter of the vice president of General Electric’s Cuba operations. She emigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1964. “I’ve been back to Cuba eight times in the past four years. I love it,” she said. “I don’t like its politics. Yet it is the most beautiful country in the world. I would like to tell my daughter, ‘Go back to Cuba. See your family’s roots.’ Now I can’t do that. We see manipulation by the media. We see people being intimidated. But I am here speaking out because I know my rights. These regulations are wrong.”

The author can be reached at here for Spanish text