- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

Lifting sanctions in Cuba too easy on Castro

Donald Lambro's June 8 commentary, "Shifting trade winds for Cuba," suggests that lifting the U.S. trade embargo will produce an economic bonanza for American business and a democratic opening for Cuban citizens. In fact, it is not likely to do either and even may make life worse in the barrios.

For starters, selling to Cuba is no sure bet. Vendors must do business with the government and Fidel Castro, not the market, makes the decisions according to his own priorities. In fact, the United States lifted sanctions on American medical equipment and pharmaceuticals in 1992, but so far, the regime has shown little interest in buying American supplies and even has tried to block some donations.

Getting paid is another headache. Because Cuba has little to swap beyond noncompetitive commodities such as inefficiently produced sugar, sales are contingent on credit or the availability of hard currency. Loans on favorable terms often must accompany new shipments so Cuba can pay off other suppliers. Meanwhile, huge overdue accounts to former Soviet bloc countries and other supporters go unpaid.

Because foreign trade is restricted to the Cuban government, ending sanctions will not help the people. As captives in the state-controlled labor sector, most Cubans work for rations and small salaries paid in scrip. Foreign companies bringing in better-paying jobs won't help. Joint enterprises pay the government to supply labor at up to $10,000 per worker. The employees receive state wages typically pennies an hour while the regime pockets the difference.

With their minuscule salaries, most Cubans can't even buy American toothpaste at so-called "dollar stores." And though there are small numbers of self-employed workers known as "cuentapropistas" that the regime permits in order to hide unemployment, the state does nothing to help them. If Mr. Castro had the resources, he would replace these fledgling entrepreneurs with state workers.

Hordes of affluent U.S. tourists are not likely to benefit ordinary Cubans either. Most Americans don't speak Spanish or go on vacation to talk up democracy. Besides, the regime controls visas and places tourists can visit, such as isolated resorts such as Varadero and Cayo Coco, which deny most Cubans access. There, reliable, scripted employees attend to foreigners while the government earns enough cash to pay bills and keep a tight grip on the island.

There are better ways to help U.S. businesses and ordinary Cubans. Rather than waste time debating how to bet the farm on Cuba's tiny import market, U.S. lawmakers could pass fast-track authority for the White House to negotiate free-trade agreements with Central and South American democracies. This would provide better access to a market worth $1.5 trillion.

Raising the ceiling of $1,200 a year in remittances to Cubans, permitting unlimited visits from U.S. family members and promoting targeted exchanges would help Cuban citizens more than playing monopoly with the politburo. Cuban-Americans who send money, clothing, books and American goods already help cut their relatives' dependence on the state. Academic visits, school tours and artists exchanges increasingly foster vigorous and healthy dialogues.

Lifting sanctions on Cuba promises uncertain profits and relieves Mr. Castro of any accountability for his behavior. Behind all this is an unspoken push for U.S. taxpayers to reward Mr. Castro with credit to buy American goods. That kind of shot in the arm might lead the regime to end such market experiments as limited self-employment, which were necessary to make up for the loss of Soviet subsidies.

While reaching out directly to the Cuban people requires more work, it is a principled policy more likely to lay the foundation for a free society and an open market many times more valuable than the present one.

STEPHEN JOHNSON

Policy analyst for Latin America

The Heritage Foundation

Washington

Anti-death penalty issue should hit a dead end

Recent news media reports reveal that liberals are trying to make capital punishment a campaign issue against Texas Gov. George W. Bush ("Liberals see death penalty as issue," June 14). Republicans would be wise to let the liberals have all the (non)issues they want, including the death penalty.

To win the election, all the Republican leadership has to do is set a clear and doable agenda that includes a strong defense, education reform (putting teachers and parents in charge), Social Security reform, lower taxes, protection of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and make English the United States' official language (even though we have many ethnic groups, we need a single official language to unify the nation).

Mr. Bush is as sensitive to the plight of prisoners as any of the journalists and academics conducting recent studies on death sentences. The only difference is that Mr. Bush is also sensitive to the victims of crimes committed by the convict.

Reporters and death penalty researchers are all over Texas looking for an execution case that the governor has presided over where the prisoner was innocent. Even if they find one, it would not reflect badly on or indict Mr. Bush as the "execution governor."

Mr. Bush will uphold Texas law; unlike the failure of the Clinton-Gore team to uphold U.S. law the Constitution.

JULIA F. THOMPSON

Stevensville, Md.

In reply to Sen. Russell D. Feingold's column asking for a national moratorium on the death penalty, I say thanks, but no thanks ("Death penalty cop-outs … and concerns," Commentary, June 15).

Mr. Feingold believes he must correct those of us out here in "fly-over" country. After all, we have elected state and federal representatives who support the death penalty in appropriate cases, the Supreme Court has ruled the death penalty is constitutional and polls continue to show a majority of Americans support the death penalty.

Evidently, in Mr. Feingold's view and those of his elitist bedfellows, we are just too stupid to know what we are doing and must be saved by his ilk who know so well what is best for us.

Why, please tell us Mr. Feingold, is so much compassion shown for those convicted by a jury at least two times and with all sorts of checks and balances established in their interest while those innocents victimized by convicted criminals on parole, including murdered victims, simply looked upon as casualties of an imperfect system?

WADE BUTLER

San Marcos, Texas

Columnist leaps to conclusions about liberals

I am writing in response to Kenneth Smith's June 8 column "Telescopic philanthropy." While Mr. Smith had every right to criticize Vice President Al Gore for the poor condition of his tenants' plumbing, Mr. Smith's criticism of liberalism is over the line and an illogical jump and corollary from Mr. Gore's predicament.

Mr. Smith writes: "The vice president's approach to philanthropy is in some ways emblematic of contemporary liberalism. Its most visible spokespersons are no less 'devoted to the public' in general than [Charles Dickens'] Mrs. Jellyby. They want higher minimum wages for all, health care for all, day care for all, a rebalanced Earth for all. Further, they claim a patent on good intentions. Those who dare to disagree with them, ostensibly over the means to the end, really just hate the poor, the elderly and the environment, the argument goes. Liberalism's agenda is not something about which reasonable people can disagree."

My political beliefs are what Mr. Smith would call "liberal." However, I think reasonable people have every right to disagree with my beliefs. In fact, my circle of friends includes a staffer for Sen. Don Nickles and the former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party. Needless to say, I disagree with them on many issues. But I don't think they hate the poor, the elderly and the environment. To claim that all liberals believe what Mr. Smith states they do is intellectually dishonest.

So, next time Mr. Smith wants to write an article criticizing Mr. Gore, by all means, he should fire away. However, he would do well to avoid making sweeping generalizations about all liberals based on Mr. Gore's actions. Mr. Smith's liberal bashing took away from his points about Mr. Gore and undercut his arguments.

PAT JOHNSON

Washington

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