Clinton Takes On Castro

August 31, 1994

Despite taunts from leftt and right, President Clinton appears on course in preventing a repeat of the massive Mariel boatlift that brought 128,000 Cubans to our shores on short notice in 1980.

Although the president's critics fretted that his tightening of the economic embargo against Fidel Castro's regime would only increase the flow of refugees, quite the opposite has occurred. The administration's determination to intercept the Cuban rafters before they get to Florida and detain them in tent camps on Guantanamo has substantially reduced the number of asylum-seekers willing to risk their lives in shark-infested waters.

Last week, Cubans were leaving their home island by the thousands per day, their exodus blessed by the cynical Mr. Castro. The daily flow has now been reduced to the low hundreds and may well dwindle more. What appeared to be an overwhelming housing problem on Guantanamo now looks quite sustainable, even before the U.S. nails down agreements with other Latin American nations to take any overflow.

For Mr. Clinton, Cuba right now looks like the foreign policy success that has eluded him so long. Despite goading from many of the same politicians and think-tankers who opposed Reagan-Bush pressure that helped topple the Sandinista regime Nicaragua, the president has refused to negotiate anything with the Fidelistas except better controls on migration. He has spurned attempts to find contradictions between his administration's willingness to deal with China, where a vibrant free market is leaping forward, and his hard-line stance toward Cuban communists clinging to state control of an entire society.

While the president was fending off assaults from liberals, he was also getting static from conservatives lamenting his closing of the door to Cubans seeking freedom and his unwillingness to impose a total oil blockade on Cuba that could push the island's internal tensions to breaking point.

After Mr. Castro chimed in with a 2 1/2 -hour harangue against the gringo foe he always needs to give his revolution its rationale, diplomats noted that the Cuban leader was no longer putting any conditions on negotiations with the United States. His envoys may want to talk about lifting the embargo and other matters, but Secretary of State Warren Christopher has made it known migration will be the only item on the U.S. agenda.

Central to this dispute is the Cuban contention that the embargo is the reason for the suffering of the Cuban people while the U.S. argues that Mr. Castro's policies are responsible.

Whatever the merits on either side, (here it should be noted that it was Mr. Castro, not President Eisenhower, who switched Cuba's economic orientation from the United States to the failed Soviet Union), the issue now is whether the Castro regime will survive. Whatever its fate, it will not be determined by another Mariel boatlift. President Clinton, to his credit, has seen to that.

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