A Bad Bill on Cuba

THE sooner the Castro regime in Cuba falls, the better. It has brought 35 years of economic mismanagement to the Cuban people; imprisoned, tortured, and murdered thousands of opponents; and aided and abetted terrorists. That's a high price to pay for minimal literacy and a string of second-rate medical clinics.

There's a broad consensus in the United States that change must come to Cuba. But Washington is deeply divided over how to bring that about. President Clinton, who lifted some sanctions last week, believes that allowing more Americans to travel to and trade with Cuba will expose more Cubans to democratic free-market ways.

The other view, often championed on Capitol Hill, is that every effort must be made to squeeze Cuba economically until the regime collapses of its own weight or is overthrown by a citizen uprising. That's the logic behind the decades-old US economic embargo of Cuba, a stranglehold ignored by almost all the US's neighbors and allies.

In an effort to hasten Castro's fall, Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina and Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana have introduced a bill, now passed by the House of Representatives, to tighten the screws. It would allow US citizens to sue foreign companies that occupy property confiscated from Americans; cut aid to countries doing business with Havana; and limit sugar imports from countries that import Cuban sugar.

This is the worst idea since the infamous pipeline sanctions against the Soviets in 1982. Those were designed to keep the Soviets from building a natural-gas pipeline to Western Europe by penalizing US firms' foreign subsidiaries if they sold any equipment that would aid the pipeline construction. That silliness almost resulted in a trade and legal war between the Reagan administration and its best friends, including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The European Union has already criticized the Helms-Burton proposal as a potential violation of international-trade agreements. Mexico and Canada, both of which trade with Cuba, won't like it either. Attempts to enforce such legislation would only entangle US courts in endless lawsuits filed by Cuban-Americans and ensnare the administration in international-trade complaints filed by America's most important trading partners.

At this writing, the bill is being debated on the Senate floor. Senators should defeat the measure. If they don't, President Clinton should make good on his threat to veto it.

The proposal would only bog down US courts and lead to trade disputes with our allies.

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