Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday January 12, 1999
Time for a new look at Cuba
It has taken almost 40 years, but the United States is finally beginning to realize that its hard line toward Cuba has failed. President Bill Clinton, better late than never, is recognizing that the trade embargo against Cuba is an ineffective way to promote democracy and human rights in Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. Sadly, however, prospects for a rapid thaw in the costly deep freeze between Cuba and the U.S. remain elusive.
Two obstacles — Clinton’s reluctance to take bold action to ease the embargo, and Castro’s hostility to even limited American overtures toward Cuba — keep Washington and Havana in a no-win stand-off. It doesn’t make sense. An end to American economic sanctions on Cuba can’t come a moment too soon. Lifting the embargo has the most potential to force Castro’s repressive regime to change.
Clinton took a helpful, if modest, step to break the ice last week. He announced a further loosening of sanctions against Cuba, such as expanding direct charter flights to the island, allowing direct mail service, and encouraging exchanges of athletes, scientists and other professionals. Building on an easing of the embargo last March, Clinton is making a tacit admission that American policy toward Cuba is failing. The Americans are heading down the road of dialogue and engagement toward Cuba, as Canada has done for decades. But Clinton is moving too slowly, evidently for fear of upsetting the anti-Castro lobby in Florida and hardline Republican congressmen.
A growing number of influential political and business voices want Clinton to take more dramatic action. A non-partisan commission, including Republican heavyweights such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, volunteered to study alternative policies toward Cuba. Clinton should take that opportunity. If the U.S. were to end the embargo, Castro would be deprived of his most potent propaganda weapon, his litany of complaints about the U.S.
Castro is as much to blame for the paralysis as unsuccessful American policy. Apart from occasional public relations gestures, s uch as Pope John Paul’s visit last year, Castro shows little interest in easing the harsh realities of his regime. He has long insisted that Cuba will not allow democratic elections. True to form, Castro’s government denounced Clinton’s latest overtures. Castro would have reciprocated if he was truly interested in helping ordinary Cubans to survive the hardships of the embargo. The sanctions cost Cuba an estimated $800-million (U.S.) every year.
The aging dictator’s refusal to co-operate with the U.S. dampens hopes for an early transition to democracy. Perhaps he’ll listen to Canada, a big supplier of foreign investment and tourists. Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy last week urged Castro to release more political dissidents. Cuba freed several political prisoners after Prime Minister Jean Chretien visited last year. There was no immediate sign that Castro would budge this time.
Few leaders are as intractable and short-sighted as Castro. However, that doesn’t excuse the mistakes made by the U.S. in Cuban policy. As long as the American embargo remains, Castro will continue a propaganda war that helps him — but doesn’t do anything for long-suffering Cubans. (Source: Hamilton Spectator editorial)