Is Extending the Embargo Still the Best Way to Deal with Castro?

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Baumann Daily Herald President

HAVANA - Did you like Ike? How about Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush?

As different as these presidents were, they had at least two things in common: 1) Each was determined to drive Fidel Castro from power, and 2) Castro outlasted them all.

It's Castro's goal and, it appears a good bet, that he will outlast Bill Clinton, too, the ninth president to occupy the White House since Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959.

From the early days of the Castro revolution, the United States has attempted to strangle Cuba economically through a tough embargo on trade with that country. The embargo originally was designed to punish Cuba for seizing the property of Americans.

In three decades, its purpose has evolved. Some see the embargo as a means to raise the level of discontent inside Cuba, stirring a rebellion to toss out Castro.

A senior Western diplomat who asked not to be named, said the government's current reasoning is that the embargo is "the most important tool, the only thing we have, to sit down and negotiate with Fidel Castro."

When I left for Cuba earlier this month I was certain the embargo was still the best hope for furthering American foreign policy. That's the opinion I formed when I first visited Cuba six years ago. Why in the world would we throw away the only tool we have to influence the hostile government of Fidel Castro?

I returned from my recent trip to Cuba less certain. Giving up the embargo, it seemed, might not be a sacrifice at all.

A tool is only a tool if it works. In three decades, even in the face of an economic maelstrom comparable to our Great Depression, the embargo has not brought about change in Cuba. In fact, it may be extending Castro's term of office by providing the external threat he needs to rally public support.

Perhaps if we took away the crutch on which Castro leans he could not blame the failures of his regime on America nor justify repression of his own people in the name of defense. He would need to take full responsibility for Cuba's condition.

The embargo does not hurt Castro personally nor the people who run Cuba's Communist Party and government. They are immune to it.

However, it seriously hurts the average people of Cuba, who really struggle in their daily lives. They are double victims, clearly unable to change their government yet targeted by a strong neighboring country bent on making them unhappy.

Frankly, the average Cuban does not act the part of a villain. Cubans are generally outgoing, warm and positive in the face of great odds, friendly toward Americans.

At the same time, the embargo has become less effective as a tool of diplomacy. Our strongest trading partners, Canada and Mexico, along with the European Economic Union, now resent our insistence on maintaining it, and they openly disregard it. …