Putting light and heat on Cuba New policy: U.S. lets press have Havana bureaus, even if Castro won't.

February 16, 1997

IF AMERICAN news organizations cannot inform their readers adequately on Cuba, that ought to be the fault of Havana not Washington. The Clinton administration reached this common sense conclusion when it authorized exceptions to the embargo to allow 10 news organizations to establish bureaus in Havana.

These include the Associated Press (of which The Sun is a member), CNN, two Florida newspapers and a newsletter published by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. There was never a reason consistent with the U.S. Constitution for denying them.

The catch is that of these 10, only CNN has permission from Fidel Castro to set up shop. Now the pressure is on communist Cuba, not on the United States, to open up an exchange of information. The embargo on commerce, whether wise or unwise, is unaffected. No one understands this better than Cuba's rulers, who denounced the Clinton "intervention."

CNN, the cable television news channel, is seen wherever satellites beam and is the leading intelligence source of dictatorships too small and poor to afford their own. No doubt Cuba has its own reasons for inviting CNN in, and will keep its cameras on a tight leash. But that is no reason for CNN not to go.

Another small gain was registered when the State Department made no fuss when Cuba prosecuted six emigrants whom the U.S. sent back. They had hijacked a boat, using deadly weapons. Cuba has agreed not to penalize would-be emigrants, but is entitled to enforce safety at sea and in the air. The U.S. has no business encouraging hijackers.

Some accommodation was reached when the European Union delayed its challenge before the World Trade Organization to the U.S. Helms-Burton Act, which penalizes foreign companies that trade with Cuba. The European trade commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, says the U.S. position threatens the dispute settlement system of the 130-member World Trade Organization. But the Europeans, Canadians and others whom the U.S. Congress pretends to regulate will not back down. The offending sections of the law should be repealed.

The U.S. is not going to have good relations with Cuba so long as Castro rules. But that should be his doing, not ours. The U.S. helped end communism in Eastern Europe with recognition, trade, diplomacy and free exchange of ideas. That would work with Cuba, too.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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