Loosening Castro's Grip

No puff of white smoke emerged after Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba - no indication that the island is any nearer to a new leader after four decades of Castroism. And yet, change seems to be in the air.

Some Cuban exiles, in from the United States just for the papal visit, softened their stand against lifting the long US economic embargo.

That wasn't an exile consensus. But it echoed the pope's statement that such sanctions hurt the common people more than the regime they're intended to squeeze. Some of those hurt are relatives left behind by the enterprising exiles, who have become the most successful Hispanic community in the US.

Many islanders who hadn't dared to speak out against Fidel Castro's tightly policed regime did so with cautious openness during the papal visit. The pope himself was notably blunt - both about ending the US embargo and about pressing Fidel Castro to release prisoners of conscience and loosen his dictatorship.

The next step in waking Cuba from its Rip van Winkle state as a kind of Khrushchev-land with palm trees will probably take place in the US. During this election year, it will be interesting to see if Cuban-Americans now start to favor loosening the embargo - at least to let food, medicines, and more people cross the 90-mile strait.

That's one way to erode Castro's hold. Any leader approaching 40 years in power (especially such absolute power) has overstayed. So experiments in loosening are in order.

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