With Cuba at door, we need policy review

December 24, 1997

An excerpt from a Monday Los Angeles Times editorial.

THE TIME comes when the broken relations between neighboring countries demands a hard look and consideration of change. That time is now for the United States and Cuba.

Thirty-nine years ago when Fidel Castro brought Soviet-style communism to the Western Hemisphere, Washington's hard trade embargo made some sense politically. Not now.

Now Mr. Castro and Cuba stand in the international shadows. The Cuban people deserve a break. Lifting the embargo enough to allow U.S. companies to sell them food, medicines and medical equipment could bring them relief.

In Mr. Castro's long reign, the people have suffered under an obsolete economic and political system that has deprived them of the most elementary freedoms. Their plight has been exacerbated by the embargo, which made life more painful while failing to rewrite political realities. Suddenly, a handful of forces are coming together that could create historic change. It's time to examine the options.

Two U.S. senators, Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., have introduced a bill to allow the sale and export of food, medicines and medical equipment to Cuba. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Esteban Edward Torres, D-Calif., and a group of Republican congressmen led by Rep. James A. Leach, R-Iowa. Both bills have been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A new generation

The timing of the bills may be auspicious. A new generation of Cuban Americans, people who played no role in the 1958 revolution or the fumbled attempts at counterrevolution, are replacing the hard-line exiles who have shaped U.S. policy toward Cuba. A recent survey by Florida International University showed that 77 percent of Cuban Americans between 18 and 29 opposed the embargo against the regime that their parents and grandparents fled.

Miami's Cuban community, too, is changing politically. The impact of anti-Castro politicians and the propaganda of hard-line radio stations is fading in the second generation of the Cuban diaspora. The recent death of Jorge Mas Canosa, a capable political operator who heavily influenced Washington's Cuba policy, has created a leadership void that a more moderate generation will fill.

Congress should pay close attention to what Pope John Paul II has been able to achieve even before his planned visit to Cuba in January. Hundreds of Western journalists will be roaming the country before, during and after the papal visit. Cuban Americans will be permitted entry to visit their relatives. Christmas will be celebrated as an official holiday. This may be a changing Cuba, and Washington would do well to look for positive opportunities.

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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