With help, Cuba can move gradually toward democracy

Although John Hughes gives a good account of the present economic situation in Cuba in his Dec. 22 Opinion piece, "Can Castro avoid democracy?", he does not seem to answer his question. So let me venture to try. I have been traveling to Cuba frequently and talked to many people there.

The Cubans would be well advised to allow gradual changes to more private business and enterprise, and with it more human rights and freedom at some pace. We have some examples of what happens if such a change happens too rapidly. Russia has done it too quickly. The experiment in China is quite impressive.

We must not forget that 50 years of "planned economy" and Communist rule have changed habits and thinking very much.

A rapid change could very well mean economic and human chaos. Local organization and structures would break down and make room for the economic vultures that we have seen in other countries.

The German reunification was in part helped by many years of cooperation and economic assistance from West to East - not by isolation and boycott. Only in this way does the helping hand have support inside to further changes.

Castro - or better, the Cubans - need to become more and more democratic. But they need time and help, not hostility.
Manfred Soellinger
Essen, Germany

Battening down Ohio's election system

I was surprised to read the following statement in your Dec. 20 editorial, "What Counts in Ohio Recount": "For widespread vote fraud to have occurred in Ohio, the major parties would have had to conspire together."

This is simply not true. Given the current state of automated voting systems, the connivance of election boards would neither be required nor desired by those committing fraud.

The ability to cover up fraud would require two main things: absence of a paper trail that could be tallied against the electronic count and secrecy of the computer code that runs the system. Both apply to the systems used in Ohio.

If there has been voter fraud in Ohio, we will never know unless someone confesses. And this is the point: We must adopt voting systems whose software code is publicly visible, and whose results can be verified.

All computer-based financial systems operate this way, using well-known encryption algorithms (whose security does not depend on the code being secret or proprietary) and audit systems that can detect discrepancies.

I would like my elections to be at least as secure as my financial transactions. There is absolutely no reason not to make them so, and it should be done before the next election.
John H. Parodi
Epsom, N.H.

North Korea, not Iraq, main threat

The Dec. 21 article, "North Korea's Nukes: advanced, but not hidden," states that at least nine nuclear bombs may be available. North Korea has demonstrated its ability to deliver these bombs by actual missile tests in the Pacific as well. Does that mean that Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and American cities on the Pacific coast are vulnerable? (Who says that we don't repeat our own history?) Our latest antirogue missile-defense tests have failed.

Are Russia and China delaying their pressure against North Korea because a damaged United States would enhance their power in the world? These are the threats we should be doing something about immediately. Our preoccupation with Iraq hides a more extreme and present danger.
Henry Rutledge
Davis, Calif.

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