WASHINGTON -- Several lessons might be drawn from the Orioles' 11-inning victory over a Cuban all-star baseball team in Havana Sunday.
One is that good pitching will stop good hitting. Another is that there are a number of Cuban ballplayers who could play in the U.S. major leagues, not just the two who starred in the past two World Series.
But the real lesson is that the continued isolation of Cuba is even more ridiculous than it was a generation ago. There are too many common elements in our culture that bridge the artificial barriers of politics. The embargo was supposed to force Fidel Castro into democratization but it hasn't worked. The answer clearly is to try something else.
The conservatives can no longer claim that Mr. Castro is a partner of the Soviet Union, exporting communism to the rest of Latin America.
That argument now fails on several counts. For one thing, there is no longer a Soviet Union propping up Mr. Castro. For another, democracy has won almost all the ideological arguments in both Central and South America. Mr. Castro is now an isolated crank.
Faced with these changes, the conservatives, Republican and Democratic alike, are trumpeting the news that Mr. Castro has been instituting even more repression recently, cracking down on dissent in the press and politics of the island regime. It would be precisely the wrong time to reward him with a lowering of the walls between us, they argue.
At first blush, that line seems to make sense. But the fact is that the repressive practices being used in Cuba are no worse and apparently far less harsh than those being employed by a number of totalitarian regimes all over the world with whom we still do business and maintain diplomatic relations.
The best example, of course, is the Chinese leadership to whom President Clinton kowtows just as his predecessor George Bush did after Tiananmen Square. The difference is that China is an enormous market in which U.S. business has a huge stake. When money is to be made, we can overlook a little political repression. In Cuba, all we're talking about is a little sugar cane and some good cigars.
In terms of domestic politics, the conventional wisdom always has been that no U.S. president would dare lift the embargo or normalize relations so long as Mr. Castro continued to rule with an iron hand. To do so, the theory went, would mean the permanent sacrifice to the other political party of Florida's electoral votes because of a backlash from Castro-hating Cuban-Americans in Miami.
Mr. Clinton, however, is positioned uniquely to take some steps toward more normal relations, as he has already demonstrated an intention to do. He has, for example, eased the restrictions on amounts of money that Cubans in the United States could send to family members back home.
Mr. Clinton is a lame-duck president who doesn't have to worry about political reaction except to the extent that it damages his party and Vice President Al Gore in the next election. The dirty little secret, however, is that Florida already is probably a lost cause for the Democrats in 2000.
But most voters understand that the relationship with Cuba has reached the point of being a particularly bizarre anomaly. Some of them might even give credit to a president with the vision and the nerve to take steps to correct the situation.
Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.
Pub Date: 3/31/99