Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's high time U.S. talked to Cuba

St. Petersburg Times


Published December 20, 2006

America has hidden behind anti-Castro exiles so long it is clear any rational Cuba policy must grow from weariness in their ranks. That time is about here. As the Times' David Adams chronicled recently, even longtime dissidents are adding to the call for Washington to open up a dialogue with the island. Congress should acknowledge what both nations want and push to normalize relations with Cuba.

Adams' reports are striking for the depth of frustration on both sides. After four decades of U.S. isolation, Fidel Castro, old and ailing, is still there and his legacy of state control intact. Washington has worsened its chances in recent years to shape the post-Castro era by limiting U.S. travel to Cuba and bungling support for democratic groups necessary to open the political process. One dissident, Vladimiro Roca, told Adams the United States must separate its enmity for Castro with the practicality of dealing with a successor government. Oscar Espinosa, a former Cuban diplomat-turned-dissident, said: "There's no room for extremism. What we need is to create space for dialogue."

These words take on added meaning coming from Cubans Castro jailed. Even Castro's critics see the hypocrisy of a policy whereby Washington deals with China and Vietnam but not an island 90 miles away. Polls show Americans favor restoring relations with Cuba. Cuban exile organizations in Miami are also softening. One umbrella group called this month for the United States to ease new restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, which it called anti-Cuban and anti-family. "Isolating people has never brought about political transition," a Cuban-American banker and exile leader, Carlos Saladrigas, told Adams. The findings were backed by the Cuban American National Foundation, long the major political player in South Florida's Cuban exile community.

These shifts reflect how far the thinking on Castro's revolution has changed among the people most affected by it. Castro may be a symbolic obstacle, but the reality is that Cubans are moving on and looking toward the future. They see the United States as worth getting to know - bizarre, perhaps, for a people choked by a 40-year economic embargo but an overture, nonetheless, that should prompt Washington to align our policy with our national interests.

[Last modified December 20, 2006, 01:34:37]

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