Saturday, December 09, 2006

A failed strategy

Orlando Sentinel


Our position: The economic sanctions against Cuba should be lifted.

Posted December 9, 2006

The rhetoric and vitriol between Cuba and the United States grows old. An ardent bloc of Cuban-American exiles has strong-armed various administrations into keeping economic sanctions in place for nearly 50 years.

The practicality of that approach -- both economical and political -- takes a page from Don Quixote trying to slay windmills, blinded by an idealistic vision.

It is a lost cause.

The embargo has given Cuban dictator Fidel Castro a convenient boogeyman all these years. It allows Uncle Sam to be the fall guy for many of Mr. Castro's failures, etched in economic despair.

Often, the best way to defeat the enemy is to engage him.

The forces of nature now work in serendipitous ways toward ending the embargo and re-establishing diplomatic ties. Mr. Castro is obviously very sick, possibly dying, and has relinquished much power to his brother, Raul.

In a speech to troops last Saturday, Raul Castro said, "Let me take this opportunity to express our willingness to settle the long U.S.-Cuba disagreement at the negotiating table."

There are bargaining chips, of course, and much of that involves just how much arm-twisting the U.S. wants to do in regard to democratic reforms in Cuba. The human-rights issue cannot be ignored, but if Raul Castro is expressing a willingness to talk, why not listen?

There is openness across the Florida Strait. A group of influential Cuban exile organizations is calling for the U.S. to ease restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. The group released a report on Monday urging the Bush administration to explore those options.

This could mark a significant first step toward further action. If nothing else, interaction instead of isolation should help promote a smoother transition once Fidel Castro dies. The future could bode well for both sides by opening up a market for farmers to sell food to Cuba, in addition to developing academic exchanges.

The venom spewed by many exiles against Mr. Castro is understandable, given the tragic backdrop of suffering and repression. Economic isolation might have served a purpose many years ago, when no one knew how long Mr. Castro would be able to hold power in Cuba.

The effectiveness of that approach has long expired. The political will of hard-liners is weakening since the Democrats took control of the U.S. House and Senate. A re-examination of U.S.-Cuba policy is likely, which means that the status-quo bloc will lean heavily on President Bush to use his veto power to protect the U.S. embargo.

But the status quo had its chance and failed.

It's time to change strategy, and embrace the prospects of a relationship not framed in contentious rhetoric and economic isolation.

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