Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Opportunity knocks for redemption in Cuba


Sunday, August 13, 2006

The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba hasn't worked. Its days should be numbered.

Once adept at winning hearts and minds worldwide, the U.S. and its cowboy president regularly strike the world today as black hat bad guys. Now, though, there's a white Stetson hanging on a Caribbean peg and it's within reach.

Fate has offered up in Cuba an opportunity for Bush to be a healer instead of a chaos dealer.

But evidence to date suggests the president and Congress will pass up a shot at limited redemption.

Bush is talking about the nation's plan to help foster democracy in Cuba. Considering his pledge to do the same for Iraqis, such rhetoric might just raise the hair on the back of many Cubans' necks.

In July, before news of Fidel Castro's illness, the president signed off on a Free Cuba commission's recommendation to "improve enforcement of existing sanctions to maintain economic pressure on the regime to limit its ability to sustain itself and repress the Cuban people."

Bad idea.

Bush cannot be blamed for the nation's 43-year-old economic embargo against Cuba. Vote-hungry politicians have routinely pandered to hard-liner Cuban exiles in Florida. Most exiles favor the embargo; for younger generations of Cuban-Americans the issue is less clear.

First issued by the U.S. government in July 1963, the sanctions were supposed to isolate the Cuban government economically and deprive it of U.S. dollars.

The embargo prohibits all but a few U.S. exports to Cuba, prohibits imports from Cuba and limits travel from the U.S. to Cuba. Politicians predicted the embargo would drive Castro to his knees. No such luck.

It's time for the president and Congress to admit the embargo has failed. It has impoverished innocent Cubans, angered U.S. allies, helped forge a relationship between Cuba and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and bolstered Castro's anti-American propaganda. It appears now that illness, not the embargo, has laid Castro low.

A dose of American benevolence could foster healthy relations with Cuba's people.

Lift the embargo.

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