- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2000

At an age when other small boys concern themselves with Pokemon cards and Lego racers, Elian Gonzalez has changed American policy on Cuba. More than that, he may have contributed to a reversal of U.S. sanctions policy on Iran, Sudan, Libya and North Korea as well. That is quite a lot for such a little chap, and something to think about as we prepare to ship Elian back to the Cuban dictatorship his mother lost her life fleeing. Elian brought the issue of Cuba into American homes like nothing else in years, and his case became a focal point for American displeasure with the Cuban-American community even if unfairly, as so many of us believe.

Will Elian change Cuba through the power of trade as well? That is the hope of those who support a lifting of sanctions. Or will Fidel Castro's petrified Marxist structures prevail, and his indoctrination apparatus (also known as the Cuban education system) change Elian? This is the fear of those who hate consigning the boy to his fate, and who hate the idea of trading with Mr. Castro. Unfortunately, when it comes to the sanctions debate answers are not easy. Should we renounce trade with objectionable regimes on moral grounds? What about the fact that U.S. unilateral sanctions never seem to achieve their objective by themselves, and only rarely do multilateral sanctions? The 40-year embargo against Cuba is a first-class case in point.

According to a study on U.N. sanctions by David Courtright and George A. Lopez, "The Sanctions Decade," a survey of 170 sanctions episodes from 1914 to 1999 found a success rate of about 35 percent, with modest goals as opposed to actual changes in regime having the greatest chance of success. Often, they succeeded in enriching the ruling class and impoverishing the population further, a phenomenon we well know from, say, Cuba, Serbia or Iraq.

Early Tuesday morning, a legislative compromise was struck between warring Republican factions, with representatives of farm states on the one side and members of the Cuban-American community on the other. The bill, which will be attached to the agriculture spending bill, will lift restrictions on American exports of food and medicine to Cuba. A similar measure was defeated last year, and there is no doubt Elian has contributed to the shift. It is the first major break in the U.S. embargo on Cuba imposed shortly after Mr. Castro grabbed power in 1959. The attack on the embargo has been led by representatives from the farm states, particularly George Nethercutt of Washington state, and the bill is estimated to produce a potential $400 million in trade for American companies and producers.

Under the terms of the compromise, Cuba will be barred from receiving loans and credits from American banks to purchase goods. Imports will have to be paid in cash or with loans from other countries. This provision allowed Cuban-American leaders to declare victory; it could certainly put a damper on the proceedings, given Cuba's impoverished economy.

Also weighing in favor of trade with Cuba is the surprisingly solid vote in the House in favor of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. Consistency would certainly seem to demand that any argument for trade with Communist China also applies to Communist Cuba. Arguments to the contrary, which seek to create distinctions, lack the force of logic. In The Washington Post, on June 18, House Majority Whip Tom Delay writes that "we should encourage states such as China that are already undertaking changes that promise to foster democratic principles; and we should quarantine regimes that steadfastly refuse to take even incremental steps towards political and economic reform."

These sentiments were kind of echoed by Sen. Jesse Helms in the New York Times on Saturday. Though Mr. Helm's notes that the democratizing effects of trade with China have been "wildly oversold," he evidently does see some progress there, which, in and of itself, is remarkable coming from Mr. Helms, who rarely has a kind word for China. "Cuba has undertaken none of the market reforms that China has in recent years; there is no private property, and there are no entrepreneurs with whom to do business. The Fidel Castro regime maintains power by controlling every single aspect of Cuban life."

First of all, those changes in China noted by the two gentlemen have surely followed China's opening to the world and the influx of foreign ideas, business practices and standards. Secondly, the enormous disparity in size between the United States and Cuba would mean that the American presence would be much more difficult for Mr. Castro to control once the doors for trade were open. In any event, attempts to starve him out have failed completely though they have not failed to starve the Cubans. It could be time to try something different.

A final thought. Since Cuba is a member of the World Trade Organization, I would like to propose holding its next meeting in Havana. The demonstrators and the Cuban police are a match made in heaven.

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