With or Without Castro, Cuba Has Promise

By , Calif.

THUS far, the 32-year-old embargo against Cuba has failed to weaken sufficiently Fidel Castro's rule on the island to a point where a change of regime is imminent. The Clinton administration's decision not to nominate Mario Baeza, a moderate Cuban-American corporate lawyer in New York, as assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs can be viewed as another failure in the making.

Mr. Baeza supports a more cooperative relationship with Cuba rather than the confrontational stance taken by the influential Cuban-American lobby in Washington. One can assume that Clinton transition chairman Vernon Jordan and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown played significant roles in the withdrawal of the nomination due to their ties to the Cuban-American community. The president's advisers are now warning of an impending political uprising in Cuba. Despite these political machinations, the United States cannot afford to consider only worst-case scenarios. Washington has an opportunity to consider new policy options that may help ameliorate US-Cuban relations, improve the Cuban economy, and prevent a possible nuclear disaster 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

First, the Clinton administration must seriously consider amending or abandoning the contentious Torricelli Bill. Under the guise of promoting democracy in Cuba, this bill has placed the interests of the anti-Castro Cuban-American lobby in direct opposition to wider US trade relations by prohibiting port entry to any ships which have recently conducted trade with Cuba, and by threatening to cut off aid to countries involved in such trade.

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America's trade partners, led by Britain and Mexico, have loudly condemned the bill as an attempt by the US to dictate foreign policy in the region. The overwhelming passage of a Cuban-sponsored United Nations resolution denouncing the US embargo highlights diminishing international support for the embargo, and the tense nature of relations between Cuba and the US. Eventually, even with its limited effectiveness, the embargo should be lifted.

Second, the administration also should consider opening negotiations with Cuba regarding the safety and operability of the two nuclear power stations now under construction at Juragua in Cienfuegos province. The safety of these facilities is suspect. An incident could conceivably have devastating environmental effects as far north as Tampa, Florida.

AFTER a period of "stop and go" construction, the Russians have renewed their interest in completing the modified VVER-design reactors by 1995 and 1997, respectively. Cuba's evolving relationship in the nonproliferation regime and its announced intention to sign Latin America's nuclear-weapons-free-zone accord, the Treaty of Tlatelolco, warrants firm acknowledgment by the US and a commitment to assist the Cuban nuclear program. This commitment serves the dual purposes of ensuring nuclear safety in the re gion, and of monitoring Cuban nuclear ambitions.

Third, rumors of Castro's impending political downfall are merely that, rumors. Although Cuba's economy has suffered the double blow of having lost its Soviet benefactor and having to deal with the lingering effects of an embargo by its closest neighbor, the nation survives. Remarkably, Cuba enjoys levels of education and health care unseen in any other developing country. Additionally, Cuban officials are blessed with a population that is weary and yet still pledges its allegiance to Castro.

Cuba has begun developing its tourist and biomedical industries in the hope that they will bring in much-needed hard currency. Havana, in the face of the US embargo, has started to develop closer ties with its Latin American neighbors, which eventually might lessen its dependence on Russia and gain it a modicum of economic stability.

The Cuban-American National Foundation and its leader, Jorge Mas-Canoso envision themselves as the leaders of a new, free and democratic Cuba. This presumes many things, most of all that they will be welcome in Cuba. The future leader of Cuba most likely already lives on the island, and like his compatriots, would be prepared to defend his homeland against the capitalist expatriate hordes anxiously waiting on the southern shores of Florida.

Finally, the opportunity exists for the US to play an indirect role in facilitating national healing in Cuba. Though the Cuban revolution, originally supported by the US, sought to wipe out the corrupt, self-serving Batista regime, what was left in its wake was the Cuban national soul torn asunder. Until there is some manner of national reconciliation, the question of Cuba will remain unanswered.

The Clinton administration, in addition to preparing for worst-case scenarios of Castro's departure, must also prepare for a regime that may last much longer. The US cannot tolerate the strained trade relations and the threat of nuclear disaster that current policy engenders. The Clinton administration must cast aside the "conventional wisdom" that Castro must be ousted if it wishes to remain consistent with its theme of not bowing to influence peddlers on Capitol Hill, and work to forge a relationship t hat looks to the future. This does not mean that we dash off to Havana to dance the rhumba with the Cubans. Washington can temper its rapprochement with Cuba so that we can be sure that it becomes a regional partner in trade and diplomacy.

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