- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

There are several common themes in the debate surrounding the recent surge of efforts to weaken U.S. policy on Cuba. We've heard that overturning the embargo on selling our agricultural products would alleviate economic hardships in Cuba, fuel the U.S. economy by tapping into new markets and, in the end, cause the demise of Fidel Castro's totalitarian regime.

These arguments may seem appealing, but they don't consider the harsh realities of Cuba under Mr. Castro. Mr. Castro has no hard currency and softening our policy now would only serve to strengthen Mr. Castro's grip on the island and its people.

Supporters of a weakened embargo suggest the regime would allow tourists and investments from the United States to influence Cuban society. That won't happen. Mr. Castro is not willing to trade total control of power for an improved economy.

Lifting the embargo and travel ban without meaningful democratic and free-market reforms in Cuba would certainly guarantee the perpetuation of an out-of-control dictatorship. Mr. Castro only wants U.S. investment because he desperately needs hard currency to fuel his regime.

U.S. investors would quickly discover that they were operating on Mr. Castro's turf. Private property is still outlawed in Cuba and workers are not permitted to contract with companies. If a foreign company needs local workers, it must go through the regime, which then assigns workers and collects their wages in dollars. The regime then pays its workers in worthless pesos. Translation: Foreign investment bankrolls Mr. Castro and leaves the workers destitute.

Every other country in the world is free to trade with Cuba, which clearly has not helped the island's economic plight. Simply doing business with the United States will do little to aid the situation. The regime is bankrupt, and the average citizen has no disposable income.

Mr. Castro wants America's tourist dollars, credit and the ability to borrow from international organizations, such as the World Bank. Cuba owes billions of dollars to other countries and international groups, and the regime ignores those debts. Mr. Castro's economic system is a miserable failure that stifles productivity. Yet he continues to spend recklessly on the military, adventures abroad and his bankrupt welfare system. Given Mr. Castro's record, any more foreign loans would fall into the regime's economic black hole with no benefit to the Cuban people.

Allowing Mr. Castro access to hard currency will not only strengthen his hold on the Cuban people, but also allow him to build up his military with anti-American terrorist groups in Latin America and elsewhere. When Mr. Castro sees U.S. policy as weak, and when he has cash in his pocket, he eagerly supports turmoil abroad. Nicaragua and Angola are prime examples.

Weakening or overturning U.S. policy on Cuba would negate the basic tenets of our Latin American policies that emphasize democracy, human rights and stable market economies. It also would send the wrong message to other rogue states that a foreign leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation, allow the placement of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States, shoot down American planes, espouse terrorism and anti-American causes throughout the world and eventually the United States will "forgive and forget," rewarding him with tourism, investments and economic aid.

Until Cuba respects human rights, releases political prisoners and holds free and internationally supervised elections, the embargo should remain. To reward Mr. Castro now is to ensure that Cuba's 11 million citizens will continue to face the same horrors and hardships they suffer today just under a regime bolstered by U.S. policy.

Jaime Suchlicki is the Emilio Bacardi Morea professor of history and international studies and the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

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