A revolutionary idea: Dump America's failed Cuba policy

August 07, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

IT'S TIME WE started a new American tradition: Declare victory when victory has been achieved, and then go home.

When it comes to the island nation that lies 90 miles south of our shores, we don't seem to be able to do that. President after president, from Dwight D. Eisenhower through George W. Bush, has treated Cuba as a pariah and Fidel Castro as the Antichrist.

There may have been some logic to that back in the days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union armed Cuba and, at one time, put missiles aimed at America on the island. But the Soviet Union -- both the threat and the country -- no longer exists. Even Pat Buchanan, not exactly a Commie-loving icon of that wing of the American body politic that believed the Soviets could best be handled by pussyfooting with them and appeasing them, has said we've won the Cuba battle and need to move on.

Judging from reporter Jason Song's article "Sanctions force colleges to shift study programs away from Cuba" in Thursday's Sun, there are still supposedly conservative Republicans who don't believe that the late President Reagan won the Cold War. They've decided to replace the sanctions imposed on Cuba in the past 41 years -- that haven't worked -- with even more sanctions, some of which have forced some area colleges to give up educational programs on the island.

This is done in the name of "the Bush administration's crackdown on the amount of hard currency going into the country," to quote one source in Song's article.

Whom will this hurt? Castro? It's been reported that Castro, his ardor for Marxist revolution notwithstanding, is really quite wealthy. In the spirit of rich guys sticking together, Bush has decided to go with a policy that sticks it to Cuba's poor, not the elite.

Let's forget for the moment (because our president certainly has) that the policy hurts those Cuban-Americans who fill daily flights from Miami to Havana to visit their loved ones, bringing many American-made goods and U.S. dollars with them. This "crackdown on hard currency" going into Cuba affects guys like Alberto and Miguel, two Afro-Cubans I met in downtown Havana back in April.

Alberto spoke passable English, Miguel very little. Coupled with my extremely limited Spanish, we must have made quite a trio as we worked our way into Havana's Chinatown. When we stopped at a restaurant for a soda, Alberto gave me a 5-peso note bearing the countenance of Antonio Maceo, the Afro-Cuban who outfought and outsmarted Spain's best generals in Cuba's two wars of independence.

I don't know if Alberto knew Maceo was one of my heroes, but I figured some quid pro quo was in order. We went to a nearby bar, where -- in direct violation of the "no hard American currency in Cuba" policy -- I plunked down some hard American currency to buy Alberto and Miguel a couple of mojitos. They even tried to force a mojito or two down my throat.

Throughout our tortured conversation, I was able to make out two words Alberto and Miguel repeated constantly: leche and ninos. I soon understood that they were making an appeal for more American currency so Miguel could buy milk for his children. Outside my hotel, I heard the same plea from guys I thought were panhandlers. La leche. La leche por los ninos.

Of course, it could have been a way to scam tourists out of dollars, and there may, indeed, be no shortage of milk for children in Cuba. But one Cuban woman -- who provides the sole source of income for her mother and her little sister -- told me that food, clothes and transportation are all problems in her country. When I visited a beach near Havana, other Cubans repeated the refrain. They also said they wanted normalized relations with the United States, the better to immigrate here or be able to buy more American goods there.

That is the policy we should have toward Cuba. There should be more American college study programs and dollars in Cuba, not fewer. There should be American television programs, movies and products as well. If we do it right, pretty soon Cuban youths will be walking around with potty mouths and their pants hanging down beneath their butts, just like our youngsters here.

When Alberto and Miguel asked me for more money for la leche por los ninos, they got it. They also got some advice when they, too, expressed an interest in having normal relations with America.

Be careful what you wish for.

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