Perhaps It's Time to Coexist with Castro's Cuba


August 11, 1993|By GARRY WILLS

Chicago. -- The Cold War is over almost everywhere else. But it still separates the United States from Cuba.

Exiles in Miami fulminate against Fidel Castro as if he were the devil.

Castro, in return, props up his economically sagging island with bravado and bitterness. The loss of Soviet money has been a tremendous blow to Cuba, the principal result of the Cold War's end in Castro's eyes.

The CIA gave a rare public report on its intelligence work when it told Congress that Castro is in financial straits. That is good news to some, who still want to avenge Castro's defiance of the Kennedys in accepting Soviet missiles 30 years ago.

But one of those who had most to do with chasing the missiles out of Cuba is now in favor of good relations with Castro.

Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under the Kennedys, went to Cuba to a conference on the missile crisis, and had heated public exchanges with Castro.

But he respects the way Castro has brought literacy and health care to whole classes that never had them in the past.

''Before I went down there,'' McNamara told me, ''Cuban exiles in Miami informed me that Castro had lost all his support among the people. That's nonsense.''

McNamara thinks it is absurd for us to keep up a hostility that drains badly needed funds into Cuban military preparations, taking them away from productive peace-time uses.

McNamara may feel some guilt over the fact that the Kennedy administration he served caused the fierce arming of Cuba at a time when this country was sending assassination teams to kill Castro and sponsoring covert sabotage as well as open attacks like the landing at the Bay of Pigs.

But one does not need to blame anyone in the past to see that restored relations make good sense for us as well as for Castro.

Some say that we should not ''reward'' -- that is, cease punishing -- a ruler who opposed us in the past. We did not say that, however, when Richard Nixon restored relations with the People's Republic of China.

We could deal again with China and the Soviet Union because they commanded large land masses distant from us. Castro was no more hostile than those Communist regimes.

But we feel we should have control over the fate of a small island near our shores. After all, we controlled it for centuries before this, asserting our dominance by economic and military fiats and pressures.

It infuriated the macho Kennedy brothers to discover that they could not do the same thing in the 1960s.

Some say that Cuba should be readmitted to comity with us if it gets rid of Castro. That is high on the list of demands from the exiles in Florida.

But those exiles themselves have enemies on the island, whose anger will make things difficult for any subsequent regime.

It is one of our recurring delusions to think that if we can just get rid of one troublesome ruler in countries not under our sway, later arrangements will be peaceful and favorable to us.

Usually we invite chaos when trying to intrude in this manner and impose our will.

Castro is no saint. But we have no reason to suspect that a saint is ready to step in and be accepted once Castro is removed.

McNamara sent a private message to Fidel by way of the reporter Maria Shriver, who was in Cuba during the 30th anniversary of the missile crisis.

McNamara said he thought Castro should rejoin the Western world, since he could do it now with his country's honor preserved.

Castro sent back to him the question: How?

We should answer that question.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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