Fidel in Paris

March 15, 1995

The red carpet in Paris for Fidel Castro was the last gasp of the lame-duck, 14-year, left-wing French presidency of Francois Mitterrand, who at 78 is a decade older than the Cuban dictator but has been in power 22 fewer years.

The assurance of Mme. Danielle Mitterrand that Mr. Castro is "not a dictator" joins words of wisdom by first ladies that are best forgotten. The conservative foreign minister, Alain Juppe, says Mr. Castro has been a dictator. Lionel Jospin, the Socialist who is Mr. Mitterrand's choice as successor in next month's election, calls Cuba a dictatorship. Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, a conservative presidential candidate, showed distaste for the visit. Much of the French press is negative.

This does not mean there is significant support anywhere for the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. No other country emulates it. Most hold that the subversion of other countries and revolution for export which did justify the embargo in past decades have long since ended. The last strictures were put on by President Clinton to deter the dictator's expulsion of Cubans to the U.S. These perhaps should be taken off, having attained their objective, but the president is strangely loath to offend the most hawkish Cuban-Americans in Florida, who will support his Republican opponent in any case.

Some governments believe that only the U.S. embargo, giving the appearance of a big country bullying a small one, keeps Cuba's leader in power. But the embargo is really no embargo. It governs no other country. It does not halt foreign investment, to the extent that Communist Cuba can attract any. Mr. Castro is in the position of fellow Communist rulers in China, Vietnam and North Korea, in seeking to break isolation and court foreign investment. Only China has demonstrated ability to foster real market economics within a Communist monopoly of political power.

Mr. Castro's visit to France was at the invitation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in Paris, to which he made a speech more thunderously anti-American in his inimitable tradition than anything he said at the U.N. social summit in Copenhagen. Perhaps UNESCO, which the U.S. quit a decade ago, was showing its defiance of U.S. disapproval by offering him a podium. Which would have been good showmanship but bad politics. UNESCO needs U.S. re-adherence for financial stability and legitimacy more than it needs Mr. Castro.

Invigorated by his rare trip to Europe, Mr. Castro can only return to Havana. It is no Paris of the Caribbean. He has seen to that.

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