Jewish World Review April 2, 2002 / 20 Nisan, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

Fidel and friends | I'd love to have a copy in full color of the picture of my congressman, The Hon. Vic Snyder of the Second District of Arkansas, beaming alongside Fidel Castro, Maximum Leader of all the Cubans who haven't yet made it to Miami.

That snapshot belongs on the mantel next to the one of Dick Nixon and Henry Kissinger with Mao Zedong and Chew An' Lie during their, yes, Historic Breakthrough in Beijing. That klieg-lit scene, with its sinister shadows out of a film-noir thriller from the '40s, now has a kind of nostalgic patina, like the pictures of Ribbentrop signing the Nazi-Soviet Pact in Moscow.

To complete the gallery, maybe I could locate an old print of Charles Lindbergh accepting a decoration from Hermann Goering.

One looks from one face to the other in all these pictures and wonders just who is using whom.

There is a weird juxtaposition in all such photos, as in those amateurish forms of pornography that leave the impression everybody involved is taking quite unnatural positions in pursuit of their own, low motive. Usually money.

My congressman can make the most humane case for doing business with the most inhumane of characters. He's so much better at selling this kind of appeasement than his neighbor, the congressman from the First District of Arkansas. A planter who's eager to export Arkansas rice to Cuba, The Hon. Marion Berry tends to accuse those of us who disagree with him of siding with "a radical minority elsewhere in the nation."

Gosh, whom do you think the congressman was referring to? The Bush administration? I don't think so. Although he's never owned up to it, I take it that the "radical minority elsewhere in the nation" is Marion Berry's delicate way of saying Those Damned Cubans, by which he means the ones who are here -- those Americans of Cuban descent who dare speak out for freedom. So much for United We Stand.

There is a certain kind of nice, white-collar type whose innate decency won't permit him to appeal to our basest prejudices unless he needs to. And then he won't do it directly. Congressman Berry's slur was ever so delicate.

I used to know a lot of good suits like that back when racial segregation was all the rage here in Arkansas. Not that they approved of Jim Crow, you understand, but, well, they did have state contracts and weren't about to cross the likes of Orval Faubus. There was money to be made. So they, too, would speak in euphemisms. They'd talk about The Negro Problem and Outside Agitators, another radical minority from elsewhere in the nation.

Vic Snyder, however, takes a more wholesome tack. Indeed, he radiates wholesomeness. Naturally he would retail this nice line he'd heard from a Missouri congresswoman who's also interested in doing business with Friendly Fidel: "When the travel ban comes down, and the first time 1 million college students come to Cuba on spring break, Cuba will never be the same again."

But who's objecting to cultural exchanges with Cuba? We already send Fidel our senators and congressmen, don't we? Why not our thinkers, writers, artists, political scientists, free-market economists, symphony orchestras and ballet companies, Americans of real talent and principle?

In return, Fidel could send us his musicians, athletes, physicians, poets if he weren't afraid they'd forget to come back. He's already sent us enough Cubans to raise the standards of major league baseball -- and transform Miami into the thriving capital of the Caribbean. (Remember when it was just a decaying resort for Northern pensioners who couldn't take the winters anymore?)

Cultural exchanges are a splendid idea, but where Cuba is concerned, they tend to be a bit one-sided. Some of us in the National Conference of Editorial Writers were considering a visit there not long ago when one of our members from The Miami Herald asked to go, whereupon the whole delegation was told it wasn't welcome.

We understood. Knowledgeable editorial writers tend to ask a lot of pointed questions. We might inquire after political prisoners, or notice Cuba's unfree press, or bring up any number of other forbidden topics. Inky wretches can be irritating guests, unlike smiling congressmen.

There was a time when People-to-People programs were in vogue with the now defunct Soviet Union, too. Those were the days: We got some of our best dancers, poets, cellists and writers that way -- before the KGB stopped letting them come. Always thinking ahead, Fidel has taken the precaution of locking up some of his best minds and freest spirits -- at least, those he hasn't had shot.

It must be quite an experience dining with El Lider, sort of like supping with Stalin during one of his purges back in the blind Thirties. What do you suppose the Vic Snyders think while they're enjoying the seafood and view? Do you think they hear history's muffled screams in the background? Freedom's cry? Surely not. They've got rice to sell. The most amiable of guests, they know it would be rude to mention the blood on a host's hands. One can easily imagine them wandering onstage into Macbeth's castle after the murders to inquire about bilateral trade.

Anyway, Congressman Snyder assures the rest of us that trading with the enemy of freedom will actually make Cuba freer. (He's already got the doublespeak down.) The congressman doesn't explain why Cuba's trade with Canada and various European democracies over the years has failed to mitigate Fidel Castro's political tyranny in the least.

As for the possibility that the process might work the other way, and that we ourselves will grow callous to injustice and oppression by doing business with tyrants that idea doesn't seem to have occurred to any of those partaking of Fidel's hospitality. Of course not. They're already pretty far down that road themselves.

Actually, in the interest of providing humanitarian aid, nobody's stopping Cubans from buying food, clothing and medicine from us yanqui imperialists. This country isn't out to hurt the Cuban people, only free them.

The problem is that, like any other economy that's been run into the ground by some Communist caudillo, F. Castro and brutal company are a little short of cash just now and always. Cuba is already some $11 billion in debt, it defaulted on its international loans years ago, and so it can't get any more money from the World Bank. Or any other lending agency that has this thing about being repaid. In short, Fidel's is a typical Communist economy, that is, bankrupt -- and not just morally.

That's where American banks and credit and you, the American taxpayer, come in. Because all the loans and grants that Cuba's sordid little dictatorship would need to buy our rice and shore up its own power would have to be backed some way by the U.S. government. That's the dirty little secret none of those pushing for an end to this embargo emphasize. They see trade with Cuba as still another farm subsidy.

The rest of us aren't supposed to remember that Castro's Cuba is still on the State Department's list of countries giving aid and comfort to the world's terrorists. Instead, we're urged to come to the rescue of that wretched little dictatorship just as its superannuated dictator is planning his succession. Which would be the equivalent of rushing aid to Mikhail Gorbachev's tottering Soviet regime just when it was imploding. But, hey, there's money to be made. And in the end, despite Saint Vic's pieties and Marion Berry's aspersions, that's what all this is really about.

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