Lightening up on Cuba Embargo remains: Clinton heeds pope on permitting limited humanitarian measures.

March 23, 1998

THE LONG AWAITED review of economic sanctions against Cuba, sought by Pope John Paul II, has not occurred. But Friday, President Clinton restored the relationship to what he found on taking office in 1993. The embargoes he repealed are those he instituted in 1994 in response to a forced exodus of boat people, and in 1996 when Cuba shot down two Florida-based civilian planes.

Mr. Clinton did not relax these measures during the lifetime of Jorge Mas Canosa, the hard-nosed Floridian who took over U.S. policy on his homeland. After his death last year, his Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) retracted nothing, but other Cuban-American voices were heard.

Mr. Clinton again will allow direct flights between Miami and Havana. Some Cuban-Americans despise this, but it is mostly Cuban-Americans who take them. Mr. Clinton again will allow Cuban-Americans to send funds to family members in Cuba. Hawks of CANF may call this coddling Fidel Castro, but the people who do it are from their own community.

Mr. Clinton will revise regulations so it is easier for Catholic Relief Services of Baltimore and other humanitarian agencies to make food and medicine available for Cubans through the Catholic Church or other agencies. This is obliging not the dictator but the pope, in hopes Mr. Castro will also heed John Paul's admonition to permit more private deeds.

The U.S. boycott imposed in the 1960s is based on Cold War calculations that have vanished. The Helms-Burton Act clauses to impose the embargo on foreigners infuriates friends, harms U.S. national interests and helps Castro isolate Washington. These measures are counterproductive. They should be candidly and openly reviewed. Mr. Clinton stopped way short of that, but his actions represented a humanitarian improvement and a modest moderation of failed policies.

Pub Date: 3/23/98

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