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Jewish World Review June 12, 2000 /9 Sivan, 5760

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

Embargo keeps us
out of Castro's bed -- AN AMENDMENT to an agriculture bill allowing the unrestricted sale of food and medicine to Cuba is the camel's nose in the door of the tent.

The amendment, which could be voted on this week, is sponsored by Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., who apparently wants to be known for more than breaking his term-limitation pledge. In a New York Times piece, Nethercutt writes that arguments in favor of granting permanent normal trade relations to China apply to Cuba, as well.

"Trade promotes democratization," Nethercutt contends. Our trade with the People's Republic helps us to resolve "thorny issues like human rights, religious persecution and national security."

It does no such thing. We've been engaged in large-scale trade with China for over 20 years, and Beijing is every bit as repressive, aggressive and undemocratic now as then.

I was against permanent trade status for China. Still, it's possible to have supported PNTR and logically oppose the Nethercutt proposal.

Unlike China, Cuba does not have even the semblance of a market economy. On The Wall Street Journal's Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks dead last among 154 nations. U.S. trade may not have made the average Chinese freer, but it has made him more prosperous. Commerce with Cuba will benefit no one but Castro.

Unlike Beijing, which runs a $60-billion annual trade surplus with America, Cuba is broke. Between 1989 and 1997, its exports declined 65 percent. Since 1986, Havana has suspended payments on its $15 billion debt to Western nations.

Nethercutt's amendment prohibits the U.S. government from subsidizing Cuban purchases. The restriction is meaningless. Castro can no more pay for food with hard currency than he can start his own space program.

Still, the dictator understands that once companies like agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland begin selling to him, even on a modest scale, the farm lobby will push for taxpayer support.

"Just think of the access we could have to the emerging Cuban market with loans, guarantees and credits," they'll plead. Castro looks forward to the day when his apparatus of state terror will be underwritten by his avowed enemies.

He also believes that trade will lead to lifting the tourism embargo. Then vacationing Americans can help keep his Stalinist regime afloat.


China is halfway around the globe. Cuba is within rafting distance of Miami. We have historic ties to the island and are home to 1.5 million Cuban exiles.

It's not that we don't care about human-rights violations in China, but communist brutality in our backyard is even more of an affront.

Mao Tse-tung has been dead for 24 years. But Cuba is ruled by the same tyrant who was in power for most of the Cold War. During the missile crisis, Castro urged Khrushchev to use nuclear weapons against us.

Until he lost his Soviet subsidies, Fidel's foreign legion spread revolution from Nicaragua to Angola. The State Department lists Cuba as a sponsor of international terrorism. The regime is currently harboring nearly 80 fugitives from U.S. justice, including several cop killers.

Despite the embargo, the United States allows unlimited humanitarian aid to the island, provided it's distributed by non-governmental agencies. In 1999, the Commerce Department approved the export to Cuba of an estimated $550 million in food, medicine and medical supplies.

But Castro wants us to do business with him directly. He wants to control distribution. (The Maximum Leader withholds food as punishment.) Amnesty International says Cuba's political prisoners are routinely denied medical care to break them. And Fidel looks forward to the day when the Yankee imperialists toss him a subsidized lifeline.

Two Cuban doctors in Harare, who sought asylum at the Canadian embassy, are being held by the government of Zimbabwe. Castro desperately wants them back. If he gets them, they could end up floating face down in Havana Harbor. That's the type of thug Nethercutt wants us to slip between the sheets with.

The congressman says trade with Castro will "support American farmers and American values." Farmers are certainly familiar with the stuff of which that pledge is made. They spread it on their fields every spring.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate