UNITED States policy of non-recognition of Cuba is based upon the professed belief that Cubans should join the democratic governments in the Western Hemisphere. In testimony before Congress last July, Bernard Aronson, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, emphasized that Cuba's people should have the opportunity to choose their own leaders and form of government in free and fair elections. Toward this end, US policy has sought to isolate Cuba in the international community and use a trade embargo to pressure Fidel Castro to accept self-determination. Unfortunately, while declaring support for a policy designed to generate peaceful democratic transition, US policy toward Cuba more likely will lead to civil upheaval. It may come in the form of a student revolt, attempted military coup, or massive revolution. A blood bath - which many Latin Americans fear will happen sometime in the near future - is in nobody's interest. America's Cuba policy is bankrupt for at least three reasons: First, the trade embargo and isolation of Cuba work hand-in-hand with Havana's collapsing trade and aid relations with Moscow. The tail-spinning Soviet economy and breakup into independent republics has derailed Cuba's economic ties with the USSR and produced the worst economic crisis Cuba has faced since Mr. Castro came to power in 1959. At the October 1991 Fourth Party Congress in Santiago de Cuba, Castro detailed the long list of Soviet goods not reaching Cuba - wheat, rice, powdered milk, and many other commodities. Oil shipments also have dropped. By mid-1991, only 38 percent of expected Soviet supplies had arrived in Havana, creating shortages of food and fuel and assuring more widespread rationing - including of bread, eggs, and electricity. Soviet-Cuban patron-client relations have ended, and Havana is now on a war-footing austeri ty program of rationed food and consumer goods. America's trade embargo will insure deteriorating living conditions. Second, Cuba's economic crisis is leading to declining legitimacy of Castro's regime, rising discontent, and repressive government responses to civil disobedience. Signs pointing toward increased civil unrest are blinking all over the island. Indicators of civil discontent range from escalating crime and open dissent of one-party communism to massive numbers of boat people fleeing into the Florida Straits, high-level defections, black market trading, and prostitution. CASTRO'S government has cracked down with nationwide police operations. A Cuban poet and three other dissidents were recently sentenced to prison terms of one to two years on charges of holding "illegal meetings." "Rapid Action" groups systematically put down dissident protests, as during the 11th Pan-American Games held in Havana in August, and Cuba's school-children Pioneers Movement has called for the formation of vigilante groups inside schools to combat foreign ideas and influences. An international group of Christian Democratic parties recently presented a 400-page report accusing Cuba of widespread human-rights violations. Cuban dissident protests and government repression will escalate as the economy worsens. Third, while Castro has tinkered at the margins of reform within the party, he has forcefully reaffirmed the island's commitment to single-party socialism. Dismissing democratic pluralism and multiparty politics as "complete garbage," the fiery Cuban leader shows little sign of moving toward a Western model of democratic government. Castro points to America's trade embargo and isolation-oriented policies to justify centralized regime control and suppression of dissent. Support for internal reform in Cuba is equated with treason, because Castro identifies such policies with the US. Still, many Cubans are disappointed with the meager reform outcomes of October's Fourth Party Congress, and mounting discontent lurks in the dark future ahead - not last among disillusioned students and the military who may try to take matters into their o wn hands. Given a future scenario of economic collapse and rising unrest in Cuba - possibly open revolt and bloodshed as the succession crisis unfolds - would it not be in America's interest to take the lead in normalizing relations with Cuba? In collaboration with Organization of American States and United Nations efforts to pressure the Castro government to moderate its repressive violations of human rights and move toward a democratic transition, American influence could be brought to bear in ways designed to a void a Chinese-style Tiananmen Square incident, or worse, a Romanian-type explosion. By lowering the "enemy" image of America, used by Castro to legitimize repression, bold new normalization policies more likely will stimulate a process leading to democratic ends compatible with our professed belief in freedom for the Cuban people. Why act in ways that subject Cubans to lowering standards of living and potential bloodshed, when we can orchestrate policy to bring about a smoother democratic transition? Why punish Cuba's top leadership when Cuba's people are made to suffer? Why not use America's power to effect real moderation in regime behavior, improve the lot of average Cubans, win even stronger friendship among our hemispheric sister states? Is it not time to take the lead in normalizing relations with Cuba - like our course towa rd Vietnam and China? Today the Bush administration is pursuing a policy toward Cuba based upon the mistaken belief that cold-war policies of non-recognition, isolation, and embargo will force peaceful change in Cuba. It quite likely will leave Castro muddling along - or send Cuba spinning into civil war, which is not what the policy presumably intends. Is it not time to position ourselves with Cuba to influence a peaceful succession in leadership?