CUBA: What Next for US Policy?

Embargo gives Castro a scapegoat for Cuba's problems and encourages a violent, costly end to his rule

THE contempt now being displayed by a growing segment of Miami-area Cuban Americans toward the self-promoting demagogues who traditionally have spoken for us indicates an unwillingness by some to continue to see US-Cuban relations with a single set of eyes. Until now, the hostile and unyielding position of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) has dominated exile politics in Miami, as well as being all but the ultimate arbiter of United States policy toward the island.

After decades of supporting the US embargo against Havana, or at least tacitly accepting it, many Cuban Americans are now speaking out against it.

They are doing so because, with the end of Soviet subventions to Havana, the trade ban is finally having its intended lethal effect on Cuba's economy and, as a result, on the Cuban people. Washington would do well to listen to these emerging voices, which offer alternatives to an approach that, at best, can only encourage a protracted demise of the Castro regime, and at worst could help bring on a violent attempt to end the authoritarian rule.

President Fidel Castro Ruz is unlikely to reform Cuba's political system under orders from the White House. To do so would caricature his more than four decades of ideological militancy. Few proponents of the present policy are willing to acknowledge that what they really have in mind is not peaceful transition but Mr. Castro's ouster. The Cuban strongman reportedly is preparing for such a scenario by instructing his military how to deal with a revolt. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration is updating a two-year-old White House contingency plan to deal with a flood of Cuban immigrants fleeing the island.

US policy, essentially aimed at starving the Cuban people into an uprising, is no less reproachable than Castro's dictatorial domestic policy. Both violate the Cuban people's right to self-determination. Pragmatically, it remains questionable what form of government would emerge from the chaos of a violent end to the present regime. What is certain is that it is sometimes better to deal with an imperfect status quo than with a potentially calamitous unknown.

If the fact that the embargo eliminates the possibility of thorough and peaceful reform in Cuba is not enough to encourage Washington policy-makers to consider a new approach, they might reflect on its other consequences. Among them are the legitimation of Castro's role in protecting Cuba from ``US imperialism,'' and the provision of a scapegoat for the failures of the island's planned economy, which Castro traces to Washington's door. Most importantly, the embargo is a direct cause of the bitter hardships suffered by the Cuban population.

Rep. Robert Torricelli (D) of New Jersey recently expressed concern that the present United States/United Nations embargo could ``destroy the people of Haiti,'' but stated that the Cuban embargo is different because it is not as ``broad.'' What else could he, the author of the Cuban Democracy Act, which tightens and attempts to internationalize the US embargo of Cuba, have had in mind than to ``broaden'' its effects through this legislation?

Mr. Torricelli points out that sanctions against Haiti could result in a ``mass exodus'' to the US. Yet he seems oblivious to the implications of an economic collapse in Cuba, and the possibility of a full-scale civil conflict in a country just 90 miles from US shores. In such an eventuality, tens or even hundreds of thousands of refugees would take to the sea for Florida, probably dashing President Clinton's re-election prospects in this anti-immigrant era as fatally as the 1980 Mariel boat lift wounded then-President Carter's hopes for a second term. Rather than awaiting this onslaught of refugees, the administration might display an all too rare capacity for seasoned decision-making by revising its Cuba policy. Why not try to prevent catastrophe, rather than merely anticipate it?

Peaceful democratic change and movement toward a mixed economy in Cuba are more likely to take place if Washington engages in a dignified dialogue with Havana that is aimed at resolving the many bilateral disputes between the countries.

As for CANF's director - Jorge Mas Canosa, whose aspirations for the Cuban presidency ride on wrongful US policy - he might try testing his questionable popularity by campaigning for some Dade County, Fla., post before wading into a potentially humiliating electoral experience in a post-Castro Cuba. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.

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