THERE are some quiet signs that after 35 years of hostility a
fresh United States approach to Cuba has been started. But the
Clinton administration publicly vows to maintain the embargo on
Cuba despite calls on Christmas Day in Havana by the Rev. Jesse
Jackson for an end to the "suffering" it causes.
"We will continue our diplomatic, political, and economic
isolation of the Cuban government and maintain our economic embargo
as a form of leverage," Alexander Watson, assistant secretary of
state for Inter-American Affairs, recently told the House Foreign
"Children are suffering because of Castro's policies, not the
US embargo," says Jose Cardenas, spokesman for the Cuban-American
National Foundation, an influential exile group that opposes any
engagement with President Fidel Castro Ruz.
And yet, quietly, a shift in US-Cuban relations has begun,
involving policies on immigration, security, health, humanitarian
aid, telecommunications, and drugs.
"If they were not so scared of domestic political
repercussions, they could describe it as a change with bugles
blowing," says Jorge Dominguez, a Harvard University government
professor currently with the Inter-American Dialogue, an
independent research-policy analysis group in Washington.
The changes include:
* US talks with Havana that led Cuba to accept back 150 of up to
6,000 Cubans who came on the 1980 Mariel boat lift, committed
crimes in the US, and are being held in local, state, and federal
jails for deportation.
* Cuba handed over to the US Coast Guard-suspected drug
smugglers who took shelter in Cuban waters.
* The US sent officials from the Centers for Disease Control and
National Institutes of Health to fight a reported epidemic in Cuba.
* The first confidence-building measures took place at
Guantanamo Naval Station when US military officials notified their
Cuban counterparts about impending maneuvers. Professor Dominguez
called it "a classic maneuver ... to send a political signal."
* This month, after the State Department Cuba coordinator said
he would only meet with Cuban exile groups that abide by the law,
the Miami-based coalition Unidad Cubana expelled Alpha 66, a
hard-line exile group that has threatened attacks on foreign
tourists to Cuba.
* Charter flights to Havana were increased, and talks are under
way to increase telecommunications links from the US to Cuba. …