Talk to Castro

Article excerpt

ON Dec. 10 and 11, as Western Hemisphere leaders gathered in Miami to endorse regional free trade, United States troops were raiding a refugee camp in Panama that had earlier been the site of riots by Cubans detained there.

The irony probably was not lost on President Clinton. Yet neither he nor any of the other 33 participants at the Summit of the Americas was eager to get into a debate over Cuba and Fidel Castro, the only hemispheric leader excluded from the gathering.

Mr. Clinton can't stall any longer. After the summit, Panamanian President Ernesto Perez Balladares announced that all 8,500 refugees in Panama must leave by March 6. Some US officials say the administration is no closer to a solution than it was when it first detained Cubans in Guantanamo Bay and Panama. If the US does not resolve the status of these refugees, more rioting is likely.

In Miami, Clinton said he and his fellow hemispheric leaders support democracy in Cuba. What he didn't say is that these Latin American leaders oppose the US embargo.

Clinton's problem with Cuba is not unique to his presidency, and a conservative Congress could make that problem more complex. If the US lets the refugees detained in Panama into the country (it has already allowed entry to the elderly, sick, and unaccompanied children under 13), there could be political problems at home, more Cubans may be encouraged to leave the island for the US, and the Guantanamo Bay refugees will have greater incentive to riot. …


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