Magazine article The Christian Century

US Cuba Policy Is Obsolete

Magazine article The Christian Century

US Cuba Policy Is Obsolete

Article excerpt

BILL CLINTON promised to bring change to the American people, and on the domestic front he has been trying to fulfill that promise in the areas of health care, the economy and crime. But Clinton has failed to make one significant change in American foreign policy: he has continued trying to isolate Cuba, a policy aimed ultimately at the overthrow of Fidel Castro. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, that policy is politically unwise and morally indefensible. Castro was never the threat his demonizers in this country portrayed him to be. In any case, the sudden halt of his annual $6 billion in support from the Soviet Union has left Cuba as a threat only to its own people.

A president open to change should say that an economic embargo against Cuba no longer serves any purpose. Instead, Clinton is giving us the same anti-Castro rhetoric we heard under his predecessors--rhetoric that says Cubans must continue to suffer as long as they "permit" Castro to remain in power. We have waited 34 years, in vain, for a change in Cuba's government. Now it no longer matters. What does matter is that the people there are suffering, and their condition is exacerbated by our economic embargo. Instead of taking a humane and moral action to end the embargo, the president has taken two contradictory actions: he has blocked Cuban refugees from coming to the U.S. while imposing additional punitive measures that will make life in Cuba more desperate--which, in turn, pushes more people into makeshift boats headed for Florida.

The Cuban economy is in a desperate condition because during its years of dependency on the Soviet Union it relied on inflated, guaranteed prices for its sugar and obtained 85 percent of its oil at greatly reduced rates from the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. Castro now rules one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, whose people must cope with a severe shortage of food and drugs. (For example, more than 14 percent of Cuban children suffer from asthma, but inhalers and medication are virtually impossible to obtain.) Castro's own political fortune still depends, as it has since he took power 34 years ago, on his oppressive political control, the weight of his personality, and his ability to portray the U.S. as the source of Cuba's misery. Castro has been a vocal enemy of the U.S. for more than three decades. Ironically, now that he is no longer supported financially by his Soviet patrons, Castro is launching an invasion of the U.S.--only the invasion is in the form of refugees desperate to escape economic depression.

Fearful of another Mariel boatlift, which took place in 1980 when Castro opened his prisons and encouraged up to 150,000 "undesirables" to immigrate to the U.S., Clinton did make a pragmatic change in U.S. policy. He reversed the automatic immigration policy that granted political asylum to any escapee from a communist country (a policy that never was applied to refugees from countries ruled by noncommunist dictators). It was to Governor Bill Clinton's Arkansas that many of the "undesirables" were sent in 1980, and many of them had to be maintained in prison camps before their future could be determined. Their presence in Arkansas contributed to Clinton's defeat in his bid for reelection as governor.

As long as his economy was artificially bolstered by the Soviets, Castro could point to the three-decade-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba as an example of how the U.S. wanted to punish and control the island. The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, a punitive action directed at those who trade with Cuba, was drafted by Representative Robert Torricelli (D., N.J.) at the behest of the anti-Castro Cuban American lobby centered in Florida and New Jersey. The Torricelli bill was at first resisted by President Bush as an insult to U.S. allies. The State Department also resisted the bill. One official said: "It's self-destructive. The ban on subsidiary trade provokes our allies. …

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