"Working together for a free Cuba"




Liberals and conservatives have begun
a new debate on policy toward Cuba,
but both sides are missing a third alternative.

By Marvin Olasky
Town Hall

The Wall Street Journal reported last week about the
liberalization: "U.S. exports to Cuba hit $1 million a day in January
and American businessmen are flocking to Havana to sign deals for huge
shipments of poultry and grain. Food sales, allowed under a law
President Clinton signed in late 200, have skyrocketed in the past
three years and could top $320 million this year. And an estimated
210,000 Americans traveled to Cuba legally last year, about half of
them people of Cuban descent and the others a mix of students,
academics and entrepreneurs."

The Journal also noted a prospective conservative response:
"Mr. Bush is almost certain to announce new steps (in mid-May) in his
annual Cuban independence day speech. The options, according to U.S.
officials, range from cutting back on permitted charter flights to
reducing the remittances exiled Cubans can send home." The Bush
administration already has been "bulking up enforcement of existing
restrictions, including steps to collar and fine Americans who travel
to Cuba illegally through third countries. … In February, President
Bush accused yachters who sail illegally to Havana of ‘putting hard
currency in the pocket of the regime.'"

Let's step back for a minute. We've had a four-decade-long
embargo to avoid propping up the Castro regime with U.S. dollars.
For many of those years, the Soviet Union was the designated enabler,
but after that union disintegrated, the Clinton administration began
encouraging "cultural exchanges" (mostly leftist pilgrimages and
"Study Spanish in Cuba" programs) and, in 2000, food sales (by Archer
Daniels Midland and other U.S. corporations).

Those sales are growing: During the second week of April,
Cuban officials announced the signing of at least $80 million in new
U.S. food contracts, and Fidel Castro himself met with visiting U.S.
businessmen to thank them for being willing to deal. Shipments of food
will allow the Castro regime to maintain its goal of having everyone
dependent on government allocations. Besides, the best food goes
either to government tyrants or to tourist hotels and restaurants
frequented by Europeans, some of whom now recommend Cuba because
desperate prostitutes offer relatively inexpensive services.

Unsurprisingly, the new business arrangements sometimes
include propaganda help, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on
April 15: "Joining the bandwagon of trade with Cuba, Philadelphia port
and state agriculture officials are scheduled to fly to Havana next
week to sign commitments for up to $10 million in exports to Cuba. …
Cuba, in return, will ask the Pennsylvania delegation to go back home
and ‘promote' full trade and normalized relations with Cuba -- a
request that the delegation leader said he accepted."

That's too much for U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.), who
has proposed a tax on companies that lobby against the embargo in
return for Cuban import rights: "For anybody to do it as a condition
of a contract is, in my mind, fundamentally wrong." That should also
be too much for the Bush administration, which could show in this
realm as in Iraq that commercial interests don't overrule the
traditional American commitment to helping the oppressed gain freedom.

U.S. political leaders should listen to the leaders of genuine
faith-based groups in Cuba. I recently spent five days there listening
to the views of religious leaders. Not one leader of any church group
independent from the government called for an end to the embargo, for
"full trade and normalized relations with Cuba." Not one asked for
more food to be imported, or even more milk or medicine, if the
imports would be under governmental control.

The best way to help the oppressed of Cuba is neither a big
liberal opening nor a big conservative squeeze (combined with a
corporate hug). The compassionate conservative way is to push for
openings that will help the poor without bulwarking the Castro regime:
The provision of material help should work alongside the future
liberation of Cuba, not run counter to that hope. Individual Americans
can circumvent the regime's controls by bring independent Cuban church
groups up to 120 pounds of milk or medicine, along with books and
laptop computers. In my next column, I'll give specifics on how to do

Marvin Olasky writes daily commentary on Worldmagblog, a Townhall.com
member group.
©2004 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Paul Echániz
La Nueva Cuba
April 29, 2004