Page 15


American Income Life Insurance Company BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer I ” think, for our part, we must learn to be patient,” says Fidel Castro. Our conversation, up to this point, has been going briskly for more than two hours. I have just asked Castro what he thought our country might do, and his might do, to normalize our tattered relations, shredded by four decades of injuries, insults and chronic mutual misunderstandings. Castro says he must learn to be patient, On my right at the dinner table sits Ricardo Alarcon, President of the National Assembly. He is Cuba’s Speaker of the House, urbane, well-versed in American politics. Alarcon lived in our country for several years as Ambassador to the United Nations. On my left is Carlos Lage, Vice President for Internal Affairs. He’s in charge of Cuba’s efforts to upgrade its battered economy, squeezed first by Russia’s abandonment and collapse, not by the suffocating U.S. economic blockade. Alarcon and Lage are the two most frequently mentioned successors to the charismatic bearded leader. Thus far in the dinner conversation, neither has spoken a word. And Castro says to be patient. In front of me sits our host, his piercing eyes locking on mine as I speak, his expressive hands gesturing dramatically while the celebrated voice, quieter now, rises and falls in cadences of carefully phrased thought. American television hates Castro because he refuses to speak in sound bites. Fidel Castro. He has outlasted eight, almost nine, U.S. presidents. The Soviet Union has fallen apart and European Communism disintegrated, while Castro survives. He has escaped assassination attempts and outlived mortal enemies. Save for King Hussein of Jordan, our host might be the world’s longest reigning head of state. And Castro says he must learn to be patient. At seventy-two, he apparently enjoys encountering another septua genarian with whom to exchange old political stories, and is eager for insights into the personalities of our former presidents. But he springs back to the present, full of curiosity and an incorrigible hint of impatience. Castro recites current Dow-Jones averages, probes for underlying meanings in U.S. congressional elections. He quotes from newly published books by former White House aides, recoils from the “cultural invasion” of countries everywhere by ubiquitous electronic media. He recites reams of current statistical data. One third of all U.S. exports go to Latin America, he reminds his American guests. “And it isn’t like 1929,” he says. “Then only five percent of Americans were into the stock market.” Today, he points out, at least 50 percent are invested through their pension and retirement funds. Castro is absorbed by the current economic crises in Japan, Russia and elsewhere, worrying lest they spread to Brazil, “from which they could bound to Mexico.” He follows with approval President Clinton’s efforts to organize an effective global response. “This is why we all must be patient with President Clinton at this very time.” Castro insists the American president “is confronting for all of us everywhere” the frightful menace of “an economic meltdown” that would adversely affect the whole global economy. And that, he adds, is “more important, and more Castro seems to excuse Clinton for the almost total failure of the president’s announced order to lift the embargo on selling American medicines to Cuba. While that part of the embargo was technically suspended by presidential edict four months ago, Castro reports, “We U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers to buy desperately needed drugs. “At first they agreed,” he says, but later they discovered mountains of permits, paperwork and red tape still required by Treasury technocrats before any American firm could sell anything to Cuba, notwithstanding the presidential six-month suspension. Apparently the bureaucratic burdens made the cost of moving these commodities prohibitive, if they were to sell at world prices. “Now four months have passed,” Castro says, lifting his shoulders and raising his palms while his eyes widen, “and none of the medical goods Cuba stands ready to pay for have been delivered. Not even an aspirin tablet!” Patience may be the happiest face to put on chronically abraded U.S. Cuban relations. Harsh memories of the Bay of Pigs and the 1962 rnis-‘ sile crisis dimmed by intervening decades, the gate to normalized relations, trade and travel between the two close neighbors remains stubbornly closed. Cuba, long ago, abandoning thoughts of exporting its revolution, has been restored to good standing in most parts of the world. On the tarmac at the spacious new Havana airport, completed three months ago, I count commercial passenger jets from eight identifiable countries. Cuban trade flows back and forth with every other nation in our hemisphere. But not with the U.S. Our country has made peace and opened trade and diplomatic routes with China, Russia, all of Eastern Europe, even Vietnam. But not with Cuba. And newly opened foreign investment opportunities in Cuba are being snapped up by Canadian and European, firms, not by Americans. Our neighbors in the hemisphere are baffled that we haven’t ended the lingering impasse. They think it’s hurting America and Cuba both. One Canadian diplomat described it privately as the world’s most discouraging “case of hardened arteries.” California Congressman Esteban Torres, who tried unsuccessfully this Continued on next page 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1-EBRUARY 5, 1999