Isolating whom? U.S.-Cuba freeze: Havana slams the door that Washington left open.

March 29, 1996

THE DRACONIAN Helms-Burton Act, which President Clinton signed into law, attempts to isolate Cuba by penalizing third parties. That's "the stick." But it left intact the people-to-people exchanges, "the carrot," of an earlier law.

Now the Cuban government has warned its businessmen, think-tankers and academics against "falling into the spider web woven by foreign Cubanologists, really serving the United States in its policy of fomenting fifth columnism." It understands better than Washington does that contact is subversive. It knows that communism needs external enemies as an excuse to crack down on home liberties.

Only a very brave Cuban intellectual, or one not going back, would come to a seminar in the U.S. after this attack.The purpose is to rule out any "glasnost" or political loosening in Cuba's policy of tolerating small business and foreign investment. The Helms-Burton Act plays into Fidel's hands on this. What it does not do is isolate Cuba economically. Rather it infuriates U.S. allies.

Canada's new foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, came to Washington this week to complain. Canada and Mexico have protested to Washington under NAFTA. Both nations plus the European Union are complaining to the World Trade Organization. The Caribbean Export Development Agency sent a mission of 25 manufacturing firms from its small island nations to Cuba seeking markets and partners.

The U.S. administration is sputtering that the act is legal under WTO based on security concerns. The burden of this falls on Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, who ought not be burdened by President Clinton to pursue lost causes. The countries complaining that the act attempts to legislate their behavior are all taking steps to insure that it does not.

But as for bringing some Cuban scholars here to talk about it, Fidel Castro has terrified them out of coming and used the Helms-Burton Act as his excuse. A conspiracy theorist would almost think he wrote it.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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