Cuban overtures

President Carter must tread cautiously in any response he makes to Fidel Castro's recent gestures. Three weeks before an election is not the time for a diplomatic demarche that could cost votes. But the President cannot fail to take note of the warmish winds blowing from Havana and the potential implication of this for future US-Cuban relations if he is reelected. HE went into the White House four years ago hoping to normalize ties with Cuba but was soon deflected from this course by Castro's militant activities in Africa. Are tehre new signs that Marxist Cuba wants an accommodation with its capitalist neighbor?

Certainly he has been trying of late t ingratiate himself with the United States. Recently Cuba returned two hijackers, disaffected Cuban refugees, to stand trial in the US. Then it allowed the departure from the US interest section in Havana of some 400 Cubans who had sought haven there. This was followed by the unilateral ending of the Mariel sealift that carried Cubans to the US. And now comes the general pardon for all Americans serving prison terms in Cuban jails -- a decision, the Cuban government said, "consistent with the traditional attitude of friendship and mutual respect between the peoples of Cuba and the United States."

No one can presume to know Dr. Castro's motives behind these conciliatory moves. He may be simply trying to enchance his image as a third-world leader after some heavy setbackts to his prestige in the nonaligned movement. Permitting hijackings, for instance, is hardly a responsible stance. It is possible, too, he is looking to the next US administration and feels Jimmy Carter is a better bet than Ronald Reagan. Or perhaps he is removing any pretext for a new Republican administration to take a harder line toward Cuba.

Whatever the case, the new administration will have to examine teh matter afresh. It is seriously open to question whether the US policy of quarantining Cuba for the past two decades has netted any advantages. It can be argued, on the contrary, that the US stands to gain by ending its isolation of the island and dealing with it diplomatically as it does with every other nation, whether it approves of its ideology or not.

Look, for instance, what resulted from the thousands of visits made by Cuban-Americans to the island. This helped to educate Cubans to how grim their life was and led to unrest. As a result, the Cuban government is now planning measures to liberalize the economy. Hence one effective means of breaking the revolutionary fervor in Cuba is simply to open the doors a little. It is Cuba not the US that would find normalization difficult.

To renew relations, however, would require getting over the tricky hurdle of Castro's subversive activities abroad. Cuban foreign policy is increasingly aggressive. Forays in the Caribbean region are especially worrisome. There is no question the US should seek an end to this activity. But the new administration will have to ask what the US gains by holding normalization hostage to changes in Cuban foreign policy. It is doubtful that Castro, one of hte world's revolutionary leaders, will ever abandon his communist cause. Yet, By resuming diplomatic ties with Havana, the US might at least have some moderating influence on Cuban behavior.

The present American policy, at any rate, has gotten nowhere. An early priority of the next US president ougth to be take a new look at the whole issue.

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