Jewish World Review March 22, 2002 / 9 Nisan, 5762

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The U.S. embargo and Cuba's future | When Fidel Castro dies, will Cuba's communist dictatorship die too?

Absolutely, says a prominent Western diplomat in Havana. "I believe the whole system will be gone within two or three years after Castro dies."

Absolutely not, says Ricardo Alarcon, the powerful president of Cuba's parliament. "There will be the same system afterward," he recently said, with some asperity, to a group of American journalists. "Cuba has already evolved. We aren't going to discover evolution after Fidel leaves us."

In truth, no one knows what will happen when Castro shuffles off this mortal coil, just as no one knows when that will happen. El Jefe is 75 and in seeming good health. He could remain in power for another year -- or another decade.

But why must political change await his death? Oswaldo Paya, the founder of Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement, derides that attitude as "biological fatalism." Unwilling to delay all hope of democratic reform until Castro dies, Paya two years ago launched the Varela Project, a massive petition drive in support of new laws that would ensure freedom of speech and assembly, provide amnesty for political prisoners, legalize private businesses, and unrig Cuban elections. It is based on Article 88 of the Cuban constitution, which requires that a proposed law be put to a public vote if 10,000 citizens sign a petition supporting it.

A pipe dream? Perhaps. More than 10,000 signatures have been collected (though not yet submitted), but no one really expects Castro to abide by Article 88 and hold a plebiscite. Yet that just makes the Varela Project (which is named for a Cuban national hero, Father Felix Varela) all the more extraordinary. The government has arrested, and sometimes beaten, dozens of signature-collectors; Cubans who sign know that they are inviting retaliation. But they sign nevertheless. "With great serenity and resolution," reports Paya, "citizens are saying, Here is my name, my ID number, my address."

Ten thousand signatures will not topple Castro, but they send a powerful message. "What the government is most afraid of is not an American invasion," Paya says. "It is thousands of ordinary Cubans openly demanding change."

And what, meanwhile, of the American embargo on Cuban trade and travel? Whose interests does it serve? Those of Paya and the countless Cubans who yearn for freedom? Or those of Castro and the Communist Party?

A growing coalition of US critics -- liberal Democrats, Catholic bishops, agribusiness giants, libertarian free-traders -- argues that the embargo is an antiquated relic. Far from weakening Castro, they say, the embargo props him up: It gives him a scapegoat to rail against and an excuse for all his failures. By contrast, lifting the embargo would kick away his crutch and expose Cuba to American ideas and influence. "There is no surer way to undermine the Castro regime," The Economist has asserted, "than to flood his streets with American tourists, academics, and businessmen, with their notions of liberty and enterprise."

I understand the argument. But I don't buy it.

The embargo has its drawbacks, but the case against it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Cuba may not be inundated with Americans -- though 80,000 of them did visit the island last year -- but the past decade has brought a huge influx of Canadians and Europeans. Their influence and exports and "notions of liberty and enterprise" haven't weakened Castro's grip -- the result, in part, of Cuba's "tourist apartheid," which bars ordinary Cubans from mixing with foreigners in hotels, restaurants, and beaches. So why would more Americans make any difference?

True, Castro blames Cuba's shambles of an economy and endless shortages on the embargo, but there isn't a Cuban over the age of 7 who doesn't recognize that as just another of his lies. What has wrecked Cuba's economy is communism, not a lack of trade with America. After all, Castro is free to do business with every other nation on earth.

And make no mistake: Doing business with Cuba means doing business with Castro. There is no private property in Cuba, no private enterprise, no private employers. Foreign investors must deal with the government. They cannot hire Cuban workers directly; a government agency chooses their workers for them. The investors pay Castro handsomely -- in hard currency -- for each worker; Castro in turn pays the workers a fraction of that amount -- in all-but-worthless pesos.

So long as Cuba's dictator maintains his stranglehold on every aspect of Cuban life, ending the embargo would be counterproductive. It would do nothing to end the far more restrictive embargo that Castro imposes on the Cuban nation. It would give him the propaganda victory and the US dollars he craves, but it would do little to bring liberty or hope to ordinary Cuban citizens.

Every president since JFK has extended the Cuban embargo; to lift it in exchange for nothing -- no free elections, no civil liberties, no improvement in human rights -- would be a betrayal of the very people we want to help. "Tiende tu mano a Cuba," says Paya when I ask what he thinks of American policy, "pero primero pide que le desaten las manos a los cubanos." Extend your hands to Cuba -- but first unshackle ours.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

03/19/02: The keepers of Cuba's conscience
03/15/02: A walk in Havana
02/26/02: Buchanan's lament
02/12/02: What 'peace' means to Arafat
02/05/02: Antismoking: Who pays?
02/01/02: Turn the Saudis
01/25/02: Making MLK cry
01/21/02: Ted to tax cut: Drop dead
01/18/02: Musings random and otherwise
01/14/02: An ultimatum to Saudi Arabia
01/11/02: Friendship, Saudi-style
01/07/02: Shakedown at Harvard
01/04/02: More guns, more safety
01/02/02: Smears and slanders from the Left
12/28/01: Congress gives to others -- and itself
12/24/01: The littlest peacemakers
12/20/01: How to condemn terror
12/18/01: Greenland once was
12/14/01: Parents who never said ''no''
12/11/01: Wit and (economic) wisdom
12/04/01: The war against Israel goes on
11/30/01: Tribunals, motorcycles -- and freedom
11/19/01: Friendship and the House of Saud
11/12/01: The Justice Department's unjust monopoly
11/09/01: Muslim, but not extremist
11/02/01: Too good for Oprah
10/29/01: Journalism and the 'neutrality fetish'
10/26/01: Derail these subsidies
10/22/01: Good and evil in the New York Times
10/15/01: Rush Limbaugh's ear
10/08/01: With allies like these
10/01/01: An unpardonable act
09/25/01: Speaking out against terror
09/21/01: What the terrorists saw
09/17/01: Calling evil by its name
09/13/01: Our enemies mean what they say
09/04/01: The real bigots
08/31/01: Shrugging at genocide
08/28/01: Big Brother's privacy -- or ours?
08/24/01: The mufti's message of hate
08/21/01: Remembering the 'Wall of Shame'
08/16/01: If I were the editor ...
08/14/01: If I were the Transportation Czar ...
08/10/01: Import quotas 'steel' from us all
08/07/01: Is gay "marriage" a threat?
08/03/01: A colorblind nominee
07/27/01: Eminent-domain tortures
07/24/01: On protecting the flag ... and drivers ... and immigrants
07/20/01: Dying for better mileage
07/17/01: Why Americans would rather drive
07/13/01: Do these cabbies look like bigots?
07/10/01: 'Defeated in the bedroom'
07/06/01: Who's white? Who's Hispanic? Who cares?
07/02/01: Big(oted) man on campus
06/29/01: Still appeasing China's dictators
06/21/01: Cuban liberty: A test for Bush
06/19/01: The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment
06/12/01: What energy crisis?
06/08/01: A jewel in the crown of self-government
05/31/01: The settlement myth
05/25/01: An award JFK would have liked
05/22/01: No Internet taxes? No problem
05/18/01: Heather has five mommies (and a daddy)
05/15/01: An execution, not a lynching
05/11/01: Losing the common tongue
05/08/01: Olympics 2008: Say no to Beijing
05/04/01: Do welfare mothers a kindness: Make them work
05/01/01: Another man's child
04/24/01: Sharon should have said no
04/02/01: The Inhumane Society
03/30/01: To have a friend, Caleb, be a friend
03/27/01: Is Chief Wahoo racist?
03/22/01: Ending the Clinton appeasement
03/20/01: They're coming for you
03/16/01: Kennedy v. Kennedy
03/13/01: We should see McVeigh die
03/09/01: The Taliban's wrecking job
03/07/01: The No. 1 reason to cut taxes
03/02/01: A Harvard candidate's silence on free speech
02/27/01: A lesson from Birmingham jail
02/20/01: How Jimmy Carter got his good name back
02/15/01: Cashing in on the presidency
02/09/01: The debt for slavery -- and for freedom
02/06/01: The reparations calculation
02/01/01: The freedom not to say 'amen'
01/29/01: Chavez's 'hypocrisy': Take a closer look
01/26/01: Good-bye, good riddance
01/23/01: When everything changed (mostly for the better)
01/19/01: The real zealots
01/16/01: Pardon Clinton?
01/11/01: The fanaticism of Linda Chavez
01/09/01: When Jerusalem was divided
12/29/00 Liberal hate speech, 2000
12/15/00Does the Constitution expect poor children be condemned to lousy government schools?
12/08/00 Powell is wrong man to run State Department
12/05/00 The 'MCAS' teens give each other
12/01/00 Turning his back on the Vietnamese -- again
11/23/00 Why were the Pilgrims thankful?
11/21/00 The fruit of this 'peace process' is war
11/13/00 Unleashing the lawyers
11/17/00 Gore's mark on history
40 reasons to say NO to Gore

© 2002, Boston Globe