Cuba is coming closer Policy changes: Castro reduces isolation with many countries, including the United States.

July 31, 1998

FIDEL CASTRO has headed off on a summit visit to three Caribbean nations, Jamaica, Grenada and Barbados. He will make speeches and have a few laughs at U.S. expense.

The policy of isolating Communist Cuba is not working. Cuba's harmlessness since the Soviet Union collapsed has made Mr. Castro welcome in countries he once tried to subvert. Some nations see this as a cheap way to demonstrate independence of Washington. Guatemala and the Dominican Republic restored full diplomatic relations. Canada's prime minister and Colombia's president visited.

There are signs the Clinton administration, surreptitiously, is joining the parade. When hard-line Cuban-Americans cry that the administration is softening on Havana, they are not paranoid but observant.

As part of the worldwide thaw following the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba in January, the United States has restored direct charter flights to Havana, allowed modest remittances of funds from Cuban-Americans to family members on the island, made shipments of vital drugs easier and approved humanitarian food relief.

President Clinton has granted permanent waivers against sanctions on foreign companies that do business with Cuba. Cuban airliners now can fly over United States airspace to Canada, as U.S. airliners routinely fly over Cuba to South America.

The Pentagon has concluded that Cuba poses no significant threat to U.S. security, and a retired Marine general recently dined with President Castro. The Coast Guard appears to have stepped up vigilance to prevent violations of Cuban territory by Florida-based boats.

This does not mean friendship or even diplomatic relations (which actually exist through the ruse of pretending to go through the Swiss embassy). The fading Communist dictator needs bad relations with the U.S. The U.S. policy of isolating Cuba is his last prop. If there is one thing he could not survive it would be unfettered Cuban-U.S. communications.

Mr. Castro has always known it. The Clinton administration is starting to catch on.

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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