Page 15


LAS AMERICAS Enduring Fidel BY SAUL LANDAU ON JANUARY 2, Fidel Castro marked his 34th year of rule in Cuba. For almost that long the United States has tried every tactic short of sending in Marines to overthrow the government 90 miles off the Florida coast. The myriad “expert” predictions about Castro’s imminent fall have proven silly. Indeed, it makes more sense to ask why he stayed so long in power. One reason is that obstinate U.S. policy has helped deprive Cubans of an alternative to their present system. Another reason is that Cuban communism has delivered in some areas and millions of Cubans are well aware of that fact because it has been their sweat and blood that has built hospitals, schools and roads. The revolution did, after all, convert Cuba from an informal U.S. colony into a proud nation that became a world geopolitical player for 30 years. Clinton might review these facts and his predecessors’ behavior for policy lessons. permitted Castro to pursue his opposition because he was certain that the CIA would get rid of the bearded guerrilla. The agency later collaborated with the Mafia to assassinate Castro and recruited and trained several thousand Cuban exiles to invade the island. Washington imposed an embargo on Cuba and broke diplomatic relations. authorized the CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba and watched helplessly as the counterrevolutionary plan turn.into a fiasco in 72 hours. The CIA continued to hatch assassination plots an carry out sabotage. When Castro countered and agreed to the emplacement of Soviet nuclear missiles and bombers in Cuba, the world faced a Missile Crisis in October 1962. By late 1963 Kennedy appeared to have mellowed and sent an emissary, with an agenda for discussion, to see Castro. At the very moment Castro admitted the envoy the news came that Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. tightened the embargo, got Cuba kicked out of the Organization of American States and maintained a steady level of CIA dirty-trick harassment. But he was more than occupied by Vietnam. the CIA on a few assassination attempts. But by 1974 Nixon had also learned that if the United States could drop its obsession and open relations with China, a big red monster, it could certainly Saul Landau is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. He directed a film on Castro that appeared on CBS in 1974 and was present when Castro received and read the note from Henry Kissinger. afford to live with Cuba, a much smaller one. In June 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent a confidential note to Fidel Castro asking the Cuban leader to open high-level talks. Castro agreed, and secret meetings commenced between Lawrence Eagleberger and Cuban Envoy Ramon Sanchez Parodi at a New York airport. tinued the secret talks, which led ultimately to the establishment of Interests Sections in Washington and Havana, informal embassies that allowed for more civilized communication between the two countries. Although Ford broke off the secret meetings when Castro sent troops to Angola in October 1975, he also enlarged loopholes in the embargo opened in Nixon’s final year which allowed U.S. subsidiaries abroad, to cash in on the Cuba trade. ‘ diplomacy to address the issues that stood as barriers to normal relations. But obsessive anticommunists in the Carter Administration helped sabotage the diplomats. They used human rights as a national security weapon to attack the Cuban regime in its area of vulnerability. By focusing attention on procedural rights involving free speech, press and political prisoners, Carter and his successors won propaganda victories against Castro in the Western media and put brakes on the diplomacy efforts. Castro’s plea to the press to focus on substantive human rights, such as housing, access to food and medical care, employment and retirement, where Cuba would receive higher marks than the United States, fell on deaf ears. But Carter’s opening had an impact inside Cuba. Discontent inside Cuba erupted in 1980 when some 12,000 people took refuge in the Peruvian Embassy. When Carter chided Castro on Cuba’s restrictive immigration policy, Fidel retaliated by opening up the port of Martel to those wishing to go the United States. Among the 125,000 Cubans who left for Florida in April 1980, before Castro closed the port, were a liberal quantity of criminals and insane people. Bill Clinton will remember them because Carter placed thousands of Marielitos at Fort Collins, Arkansas, during Clinton’s first term as governor. The handling of a Cuban refugee uprising at Fort Collins proved to be a liability when Clinton ran for a second term and lost. stepped up the propaganda war against Cuba while his Secretary of State Alexander Haig threatened in vain to “go to the source” of terrorism in the hemisphere, meaning a naval quarantine of the island. For eight years, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, Cuba was accused of being its primary agent of evil in the hemisphere. of recognizing that Castro’ s Cuba had more staying power than the supposedly stronger regimes in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, tried to destroy the revolution by strangling it to death. Making normal relations dependent on Cuba’s adoption of a U.S.-style democracy and a free market economy, Bush provoked a harder line inside Cuba. Dissidents who had been freed were rearrested as Castro called for wartime unity in the face of the renewed U.S. aggressiveness. Mistaking fixation hubris for reason, Bush progressively tightened the embargo and ultimately signed the so-called Cuba Democracy Act that prohibited U.S. subsidiaries abroad from trading with Cuba and refused to allow ships that had docked in Cuban ports to dock in U.S. harbors for six months, thus making it even more difficult for other nations to engage commercially with the communist island. Castro didn’t collapse as a result, but the United States was humiliated at the U. N. General Assembly, which by an overwhelming margin voted to condemn the embargo. the past that Fidel Castro thrives on adversity. He also has considerable internal support that has survived the worst of economic times. Cubans might grumble over scarcity, but there’s no apparent malnourishment or millions of kids going to bed hungry. They can compare their conditions to conditions in other places around the world and see that despite the restrictive nature of their system they are better off. By treating Cuba like any other nation the United States can enjoy the benefits of commerce and even tourism. That way of relating to a people about whom we claim concern makes sense. We sent 30,000 troops to feed the Somalis whose government was barbaric, while trying to prevent Cubans from getting food and oil. We sent a half-million troops to defend Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that cuts the hands off religious dissenters. China, whose political prisoner population far outnumbers Cuba’s, gets most favored nation status. anti-Castro Cubans, the logical opposition to Castro’s policies on the island. They have more influence on U.S. policy than they do on Cuban affairs. Most of the ten and a half million who remain on the island think of the embargo as a mean punishment policy that deprives them of food, medicine, oil and other necessities. If President Clinton were thinking of logical New Year’s resolutions he might pledge to return Cuba policy to a realistic standard of behavior and drop the 34-year-old obsession. 20 JANUARY 29, 1993