One more ill-defined policy toward Cuba

President Clinton’s decision last week to allow news organizations to have permanent reporting bureaus in Cuba for the first time since 1969 is just one of a number of confused, ill-defined policies toward the island nation. In prioritizing the downfall of Fidel Castro’s regime as justification for an unsuccessful 40-year-old embargo against Cuba, the U.S. government has contributed to the decimation of Cuba’s economic base. The severe sanctions, which include food and medicine, haven’t proved much of a match for Castro’s unyielding power or his disregard for Cuba’s devastatingly poor citizens.
Now, Clinton hastily suggests that the presence of information organizations, such as CNN, in Cuba will foster peaceful democratic change by bolstering popular demands for Castro’s resignation. Certainly, the decision to establish international news headquarters in Havana merits support. It will mean more in-depth, widespread coverage of Cuba’s fledgling economy and cruel human rights abuse. To the extent that Castro will permit Cubans to interact with foreign journalists, an international news presence can also provide a much-needed voice for the vast majority of citizens who have been stifled by the harsh, communist regime.
Even the most resourceful news organizations, however, aren’t likely to overwhelm Castro’s grasp over Cuba. Castro’s confidence in his control remains strong, even though his nation stands alone as the only nondemocratic country in the Western Hemisphere. It was Castro, in fact, who first agreed to CNN’s request for permanent headquarters, even before Clinton signed on to the proposal. There is no doubt that Castro believes, with good reason, that he is likely to come out on top of the deal. Corporations such as CNN as well as the nine other news organizations Clinton authorized will fuel the Cuban economy with the cash he has sought in courting international investments.
Focusing international news cameras on Cuba will also provide Castro with free advertising aimed primarily at the already ample number of European investors anxious to do business with Havana. The European Union has already challenged the validity of the 1995 Helms-Burton Act, in which the U.S. Congress called for court sanctions against foreign investors in Cuba. Understandably, Europe doesn’t think the United States should have the right to force other nations to isolate Havana. In tightening our economic sanctions against Cuba and outlawing its participation in foreign trade, the Helms-Burton Act is yet another muddled policy that curtails efforts to arouse demands for greater political liberties among Cuban citizens. Political transformation isn’t likely until the people have enough economic power to demand that the leadership accommodate the probable influx of investments with opportunities for everyone to share in the potential wealth.
Clinton’s contention that the presence of permanent news organizations will lead to peaceful change ignores our own nation’s complicity in Cuba’s economic ruin. The president might consider a more thoughtful evaluation of U.S. policies toward Cuba before CNN shows the world that the people, not the dictators, continue to pay the price for our failed efforts to bring about Castro’s demise.