Thursday, August 03, 2006

Failed policy helps Castro keep control

The Orlando Sentinel

Mike Thomas

Published August 3, 2006

So what happens when you throw a party and the guest of honor doesn't die? That was the case in Miami when Cuban-Americans took to the street to celebrate the impending demise of Fidel Castro.

That Fidel was not lifeless took all the life out of the party.

The good news is that he should be soon enough.

I imagine he'd be tobacco fertilizer by now if only Cuba had the same imperialist HMOs that plague us.

I don't care if he is president for life. No more antibiotics!

Unfortunately, Cuba's socialized health care is quite good. Life spans on the island equal those here. And Cuba's literacy rate tops what you'll find in Orange County high schools.

Maybe that has been Castro's secret to longevity. Yes, he's a narcissistic, ruthless dictator. But he spreads the wealth a bit more than the typical, narcissistic, ruthless dictator backed by the United States.

This might explain why the shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos and Anastasio Somoza died in exile while Castro will go out with a Caribbean breeze blowing through his hospital window.

Hopefully this will bring the Miami Cubans some peace.

Hopefully, it also will bring some sanity to our Cuba policy, which has been held hostage to their fanaticism.

This is not to say they don't have reason to hate the guy. Castro is Kim Jong Il with a personality.

But when you let emotions supersede logic, you invariably get bad foreign policy. And that has been the case in Cuba for decades.

So toxic is the exiles' passion that no politician dares stand up to them. Given Florida's key position in electoral politics, and Miami's key position in Florida, the prospect for a rational Cuban policy never had a chance.

For 47 years, we have tried to boycott Castro to death. Given that he never was about to miss a meal, the logic was to make life so miserable for the populace, they would rise up against him.

That this never happened was beside the point. The response wasn't to reassess, but to tighten the screws even more.

Last year, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar -- a conservative backer of George Bush's War on Terror -- called the embargo one of Castro's "greatest allies." Aznar said Castro even admitted to him that ending the embargo would threaten the dictator's regime.

The reason is that all that American money flooding into the island would loosen his control. It would plant entrepreneurial seeds, just as in China. He no longer could use America as a scapegoat for the island's problems.

Our policy toward Cuba should have focused on opening up the closed island, making it dependent on our wealth, giving its people a taste of life on the other side of the Florida Strait and laying the foundation for a capitalistic democracy.

Instead, it was geared toward settling old scores. The rest of America got a taste of this extremism during the Elian Gonzalez debacle.

Now we have no foothold in Cuba to exploit the current situation. We have no leverage to demand the junta that replaces Castro loosen its grip.

That Cuba's future is up for grabs when Castro dies speaks volumes about our failure.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or mthomas@orlandosentinel.com.

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