Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Cuba, try kindness


August 3, 2006

THE POST-CASTRO transition has begun in Cuba. The United States, 90 miles away with an economy 300 times the size of the island's, will be deeply involved. To improve the prospects for democracy, US policy makers need to abandon the arrogance that has characterized their approach for a century and more.

This attitude dates at least from 1898, when the United States hijacked the Cuban struggle for independence and turned it into the Spanish-American War. The Bay of Pigs debacle came in 1961. US high-handedness also asserted itself in the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which set the terms under which a US president could end the trade embargo. A transition government had to be in place and could not include Fidel Castro or his brother and deputy Raul.

Arrogance turned up again last month in a report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, an interagency US task force that recommended steps to tighten the embargo. For instance, exports of medical equipment, which had been exempted, could be barred if they were going to clinics catering to foreigners, a source of income for the regime. Cuba is justifiably proud of its healthcare system. Why should the United States attempt to impede it?

Plans for the future of Cuba gained urgency this week when Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to his brother for the first time in his 47-year rule, because of stomach surgery. The Bush administration reacted warily. Its policy since 2001 has been to restrict Americans' access to Cuba.

The Clinton administration, though limited by Helms-Burton, tried a different approach, encouraging Americans to visit and spread US dollars throughout the weak economy. Castro didn't like the influence of this money, and he restricted its flow once he was assured of adequate oil supplies from Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president.

Fidel thrives on US enmity. Raul is supposed to be more flexible on economic matters, but at age 75 he is a transitional figure himself. The United States has to persuade the next generation of Cuban leaders to open up the country to democratic influences.

This policy will require subtlety and a bit of humility by the United States. It should start by allowing more Americans to visit Cuba. And it should include a loosening of the embargo to include more agricultural exports, something US farmers have sought for years. As for medical equipment, why not let the Cubans buy it, no matter what the purpose?

The United States has attempted to squeeze the Cuban economy since 1960, a year after the Castro brothers took control. This hurt the Cuban people but didn't faze the Castros. As they move off-stage, generosity and dialogue should replace the reflexive assertion of American might.


JG: I am not holdging my breath waiting for the kindness. The Washington D.C. and Miami gang that have the reins of our Cuba policy would not know what kindness is if it was staring them in the face. In forty seven years of HATE they have accomplished NOTHING!

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