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Jewish World Review April 5, 2002/ 24 Nisan, 5762

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

Carter clueless on nature of Castro's tyranny | Jimmy Carter, who has nothing better to do with his time, aims to be the first ex-president to visit Cuba, where he will urge Americans to throw a lifeline to the decrepit dictatorship. The trip is pending State Department approval, a pro forma matter.

Carter was invited down by Fidel Castro, who turned in a bravura performance at the recent U.N. Development Conference in Mexico, with his usual claptrap about Third World poverty as a capitalist conspiracy. (Which raises the intriguing question: How did Cuba get so destitute after 43 years of super-charged socialism?)

In setting forth his rationale for trade and tourism with the stagnant utopia, Carter demonstrates the endearing naivete for which he is famous. "I think the best way to bring about democratic changes in Cuba is obviously to have maximum commerce and trade and visitation by Americans ... and let the Cuban people know the advantages of freedom," the former president urged.

Carter sees millions of Americans flocking to the island, instilling a yearning for representative government and civil liberties in the Cuban people. Thus inspired, they will do what -- support Castro's opponent in the next election? Oops, I forgot, there are no elections.

The Cuban people don't have to be convinced that it would be great to get Castro's boot off their backs. In March, dissidents submitted a petition with 10,000 signatures to the National Assembly calling for democratic reforms.

If the people didn't want change, Castro's goons wouldn't have to brutalize them every other day. Everyone from Amnesty International to the U.N. Human Rights Commission has condemned Castro's tyranny.

What Cubans want is irrelevant; what Castro desires is paramount. He's had total power for going on half a century, since Ike was in the White House. He is president of the Council of Ministers, chairman of the Council of State, commander in chief of the armed forces and first secretary of the Communist Party. His power over 11 million Cubans is as absolute as any tyrant in history.

And he has said that as long as there's breath in his septuagenarian body, Cuba will remain a Stalinist state.

Tourism isn't a source of change but an engine for maintaining the status quo. Last year, it generated an estimated $2 billion. Along with charity from Cuban exiles, tourist dollars represent over half of all foreign revenue.

Tourists stay in segregated hotels, forbidden to Cubans who aren't cleaning toilets or scrubbing floors. They eat at segregated restaurants, soak up rays on segregated beaches and shop in special dollar stores. Medical tourists are even treated in segregated hospitals. (Ordinary Cubans have to bring their own bedding to the hospitals reserved for them.)

You have a better chance of associating with an average Cuban in Miami than Havana.

Trade would allow American companies to join their European and Canadian counterparts in exploiting the Cuban people. Foreign mining firms pay the regime $9,500 a year for contract laborers. Of that amount, the state keeps 98 percent and turns over the balance to the worker. There's a name for this -- slavery.

The commie caudillo wants capitalist dupes to subsidize his tyranny. In 1986, Cuba stopped making payments on its long-term foreign debt (at least $11 billion -- $1,000, or four years wages, for every Cuban). In February, Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Trade asked a consortium of creditors to restructure its short- and medium-term debt.

After 43 years of scientific socialism (the ultimate oxymoron), Cuba is a beggar caging spare change on international lenders' street.

The U.S. embargo is a misnomer. Havana is free (no pun intended) to buy food and medicine here -- if it pays cash. But Castro wants credit sales, backed by government loan guarantees. If we're dumb enough to give it to him, American taxpayers will end up subsidizing the world's longest-running anti-American regime.

Jimmy Carter is a nice but totally clueless fellow. Speaking of trade, perhaps we can trade him to Castro for a dozen dissidents to be named later. Then he could devote himself full-time to explaining the benefits of freedom to the Cuban people -- for all the good it will do.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate