Taking a New Approach to U.S.-Cuban Relations

Article excerpt

IT IS EASY to understand why the U.S. considered Cuba an enemy in 1962. Because of the ominous potential for military-political confrontation that existed then, Washington imposed an economic embargo on Cuba under provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Far from bringing Cuba to heel, this economic and political pressure intensified Pres. Fidel Castro's animosity. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Cuba strengthened its ties with the Soviet Union and engaged in international military activities inimical to U.S. interests in Angola and Ethiopia. Cuban agents (most notably Che Guevarra) actively were fomenting socialist movements that threatened governments considered friendly to the U.S. throughout Latin America.

Above all, the Soviet Union was permitted to maintain a significant military presence in Cuba., only 90 miles from America. For this privilege, the U.S.S.R. provided critical support to the Cuban economy and large quantities of military equipment to the Cuban armed forces.

Taken altogether, Cuba was an angry, threatening neighbor for 30 years, but what about today? What is Cuba doing now that justifies treating that nation as an enemy? There are no foreign troops on Cuban soil. Cuba has no military forces abroad. Castro formally has ended all efforts to promote socialism in Latin America. The Cuban armed forces are being reduced by 30-40% and have absolutely no capability to threaten the U.S. or its interests in Latin America.

While visiting Cuba in 1993. I found a government profoundly interested in restoring constructive, peaceful relationships with the U.S. Military and political officials were extremely hopeful and more than pleased to point out ways in which U.S.-Cuban relations seemed to be improving under the Clinton Administration. Several points of contact had been established to discuss navigation problems at Guantanamo Bay and safety issues in the Florida Straits. The Cubans seemed to be leaning over backward to communicate readiness to discuss and resolve mutual problems.

What has been the response by the U.S.? Seemingly. it has been to tighten the screws on Castro's Cuba even more than the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 did, and that misnamed document already had created intense pressure on Castro. Also known as the Torricelli Act for its author, Rep. Robert G. Torricelli (D.-N.J.), it expanded the 1962 embargo by, in effect, establishing a secondary boycott against trade with Cuba and barring ships that call at Cuban ports from U.S. ports for six months. This additional squeeze on Castro universally has been condemned by the world community. The UN General Assembly twice has voted overwhelmingly to call for an end to the U.S. embargo. The Organization of American States also has called for an end to these economic and political sanctions, which punish the Cuban people far more than Castro.

Nevertheless, on Aug. 8, 1994, Pres. Clinton announced new stringent, punitive measures that once again struck at Cuban citizens. Cubans in the U.S. no longer would be permitted to send U.S. dollars to their families in Cuba, money desperately needed for food and other necessities by many recipients. Moreover, charter flights between Miami and Havana would accommodate only legal immigrants, thus effectively ending flights for family visits.

Why should the U.S. continue to increase pressures on the Cuban people long after Castro has cleaned up his act? He no longer is engaging in any of the political and military behavior that earned Cuba official designation as an "enemy." He frequently has signaled willingness to discuss any issue in negotiations with the U.S., including reparations for American property expropriated by Cuba in the 1960s. Why does America respond by tightening the noose around Castro's neck?

One reason is cited officially by Clinton. Cuba must reform its political system and move toward a representative democratic system before the U.S. will discuss relaxation of the existing economic embargo and travel and financial restrictions. …