Grinch restores Christmas Cuba: Vatican gets more from recognizing Castro than Washington does by ostracism.

December 06, 1998

ALL the ostracism of the United States and threats by Florida-based Cuban Americans could not budge Fidel Castro on freedom of religion, freedom of speech or human rights. Pope John Paul II has wrung more concessions from Cuba's dictator by visiting him and breaking the isolation.

The dictator is the Grinch who stole Christmas from the Cuban people, outlawing its celebration 29 years ago. The announcement that Cuba's Communist Party is formally restoring Christmas as a permanent public holiday is nakedly political. Mr. Castro is awarding the Vatican in return for the pope's visit last January.

Of course, Christmas never left the hearts of Cuba's Christians. And Mr. Castro's showy gesture should not be confused with restoring full freedoms to the church of most Cubans. Nor will public Christmas decorations alleviate poverty or extend freedom of speech or promote democracy. But the Catholic Church can be counted on to use this modest concession as a platform from which it will seek more rights for Catholic and other Cubans.

The Church is doing more to weaken communism in Cuba through recognition and humanitarian aid than U.S. policy has done since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Cuban communism probably could not long survive unfettered access for people, ideas, images, goods and services. Communism and Castro's monolithic control would be subverted rapidly.

But U.S. policy that pretends to outlaw economic relations with Cuba for the whole world has been counterproductive. As things now stand, Mr. Castro wins world sympathy by blaming Washington for his isolation, although President Clinton has been quietly relaxing U.S. policies against Cuba.

The modest Vatican achievement in wresting reinstatement of a public Christmas argues for a thorough review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, which reached a dead end years ago.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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