WILL CLINTON’S CUBA INITIATIVE AMOUNT TO ONE STEP BACK, TWO FORWARD FOR CASTRO?

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(Washington, D.C.): One must say this
for Bill Clinton: It takes someone with a
truly unique view of reality to announce
“The Cuban Government will not
succeed in any attempt to dictate
American immigration policy” — at
the very moment
that he was changing
a twenty-eight-year-old policy in direct
response to pressure from Cuban dictator
Fidel Castro.

This example of the sort of Orwellian
double-speak that Mr. Clinton and his
Administration have elevated to an
art-form is so transparent that even the
unschooled can penetrate it. Less clear,
however, is its ultimate purpose.

Life Support for Fidel

The key element of the Clinton Cuban
initiative — the open-ended detention of
those refugees who manage to get to the
United States and removal to Guantanamo
or as-yet-unidentified “safe
havens” in third countries for those
intercepted at sea — represents what the
French call a coup de main. By
this, swift, unexpected and decisive
action, the Administration has taken a
giant step toward one of its most
cherished, if most closely held,
objectives: the normalization of
relations with Fidel Castro’s Havana.

This has been the unmistakable agenda
of those like Morton Halperin, the failed
candidate for a senior Defense Department
position whose consolation prize was a
senior position on the Clinton National
Security Council staff. In the immediate
run-up to President Clinton’s
announcement last February ending the
trade embargo against another
unreconstructed communist totalitarian
state, Vietnam, CNN broadcasted a report
revealing that unnamed NSC officials
wanted next to lift the embargo on Fidel
Castro’s Cuba.(1)

On April 6, 1994, Dr. Halperin and an
NSC colleague, Richard Feinberg, met with
representatives of “Pastors for
Peace” and “Freedom to
Travel,” organizations that have
blatantly engaged in activity prohibited
under the terms of the U.S. trade embargo
against Cuba.(2)
By so doing, the NSC officials conferred
a degree of legitimacy on those
determined to aid one of the planet’s
last, repressive communist regimes. At
the very least, Dr. Halperin reinforced
their expectation that the Clinton
Administration is prepared to adopt a
more conciliatory policy toward Fidel
Castro’s Cuba. In fact, according to a
report published two days later by the Miami
Herald
, the “leaders of
the two organizations…emerged from
talks with White House officials brimming
with confidence that their acts of civil
disobedience are easing U.S. restrictions
toward Cuba.”

Castro’s Out of Time

For those sympathetic to Castro, both
inside and outside of the U.S.
government, however, there is no longer
time for such a gradual improvement in
bilateral relations. The rapid
deterioration in the Cuban economy — the
result of stultifying socialist
mismanagement and a disastrous harvest as
much as American sanctions — has made
Castro’s situation desperate in recent
months. Popular anger against his
government has begun to manifest itself
in large public demonstrations and even
riots.

Dramatic steps had to be taken to save
Fidel. But, doing so would require ending
the Castro regime’s unique status as a communist
adversary and the ideological
justification for resisting Castro,
something most Americans believe —
despite the passing of the Cold War —
continues to warrant U.S. political
opposition and economic sanctions. This
then appears to have been the real, if
unstated, object of last Friday’s
decision. In the wake of the presidential
directive, those fleeing Cuba have been
transformed from political refugees into
illegal immigrants. Castro’s repression
has been at least implicitly endorsed as
a means of preventing a fresh tide of
asylum-seekers from reaching
international waters and American shores.

To be sure, the Clinton move to end
the nearly thirty-year compact with those
in Cuba willing to risk everything for
freedom appealed to other constituencies.
The Congressional Black Caucus has with
increasing shrillness of late vented its
frustration over a failed Haiti policy by
contrasting the favored treatment
received by Cuban emigres with the
incarceration and deportations
experienced by would-be Haitian
immigrants. Many in Florida and elsewhere
in the United States, alarmed at the
fiscal and political implications of
large numbers of immigrants, are
receptive to any effort seen as stemming
the human tide.

Sops for America’s
Anti-Castroites?

It is also true that President Clinton
has announced several steps meant to
signal his unhappiness about Castro’s
adamant opposition to democracy. Cutting
off hard currency flows from
Cuban-Americans to those still on the
island, restrictions on charter flights,
increased radio propaganda, etc. are all
welcome — as far as they go. The
trouble is that they do not go very far.

They certainly do not begin to
offset the implications of the
immigration initiative for the legitimacy
of Fidel’s regime.

They are, rather, afterthoughts to the
main policy move, adopted under intense
pressure from the firmly anti-Castro
Cuban American National Foundation after
the Administration unveiled its dramatic
shift on the refugee issue. This is one
politically powerful constituency that
neither Mr. Clinton nor Democratic
Florida Governor Lawton Chiles wants to
alienate in the midst of the latter’s
hotly contested reelection bid.

What’s The Real
Game?

Importantly, these measures have been
couched in terms of seeking to add
pressure on Castro to open up his society
to more democratic principles and
practices — not to removing Fidel from
power. If, despite such steps and
repeated Administration professions of
support for the Cuban Democracy Act (the
tough legislation on the books aimed at
ending Castro’s rule), the real Clinton
agenda is to move toward normalized
relations even if Castro remains in
power
, the latest sanctions may
prove to be little more than
window-dressing.

Specifically, there could be a
move — after the 1994 election and
before the presidential race in 1996 —
to cut a deal with Castro: His
anti-democratic restraint on emigration
will be rewarded with liberalized travel,
translating into increased tourism
(already Cuba’s main source of hard
currency revenue) and perhaps new
opportunities for U.S. business
investment.
In promoting the
latter, the same argument should be
expected that proved so effective in the
debates about China’s MFN status and
ending the embargo against Vietnam —
namely, that American companies must not
be put at a disadvantage against their
international competitors simply because
of strategic concerns or principle. The
domestic political calculation may be
that cutting off new infusions of
anti-Castro immigrants may make such a
deal less of a liability for 1996 by
playing to anti-immigrant sentiments and
by strengthening the hand of some in the
younger generation of Cuban-Americans who
do not share their parents’ rabid
opposition to the Cuban tyrant.

The Bottom Line

Consequently, now is the time to
establish where Mr. Clinton really stands
on the central question: Will he take all
available steps to liberate Cuba from
Fidel Castro? Or will he settle — as he
has done with China, Vietnam and North
Korea — for more false promises of good
behavior from unreconstructed communist
despots? The test will be whether
he swiftly adopts policies, including a
naval blockade, aimed at capitalizing on
Castro’s present parlous state and
bringing democracy to the island in the
only way it can be accomplished: by
ridding Cuba of Castro and his dwindling
cadre of loyalists.

It is to be expected that criticism
will soon be heard for any such course of
action from the West Europeans, Canada,
Japan and most especially Castro’s once
and future patrons in Russia. In fact, if
past practice is any guide, those within
the U.S. government who advocate
normalized relations with communist Cuba
are likely to encourage diplomatic and
economic pressure from abroad calculated
to undermine even the Administration’s
relatively modest
“pro-democracy” measures.

Should Mr. Clinton acquiesce to this
pressure (willingly or reluctantly),
whatever faint hope exists that his
package of initiatives will produce the
liberation of Cuba will be vaporized. The
net result will instead be to fatally
erode the time-honored and still
appropriate basis for American opposition
to Castro’s rule — anti-communism —
while clearing the way to put his regime
on economic life-support by undoing the
embargo used to effect that opposition.

– 30 –

1. See in this
connection the Center’s Decision
Brief
entitled Welcome
to the N.S.C., Dr. Halperin: Will You
Give Democracy the Shaft Elsewhere — As
Has Been Done in Vietnam?
( href=”index.jsp?section=papers&code=94-D_16″>No. 94-D 16, 4
February 1994).

2. For more
information on the Halperin agenda for
normalizing relations with Cuba, see the
Center’s Decision Brief entitled
First Hanoi, Now Havana?
Spare Us Morton Halperin’s Prescriptions
for Potemkin Democracy in Cuba
,
(No 94-D 33, 8
April 1994).

Center for Security Policy

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