- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

At this writing, Fidel Castro still breathes. Cuba’s supposedly world-class health system may sustain the dictator a while longer. Or he may succumb within a medical establishment in which a Havana hospital I once visited grew anesthetic herbs to replace modern surgical painkillers that had vanished, thanks to the magic of scientific socialism.

Whenever Mr. Castro moves on to that great collective farm in the sky, America should take several concrete measures to rescue Cuba and its wonderful people from 47 years of communist tyranny and mismanagement.

First, America should lift the economic embargo President John F. Kennedy imposed in 1962. The embargo, or “The Blockade” as Mr. Castro calls it, has backfired badly and should have been abandoned decades ago. Mr. Castro has used America’s ban on trade with Cuba as a catchall excuse for his island-prison’s every shortcoming. Food shortages? Blame “El Bloqueo.” Clothes rationing? Absent the embargo, Castroites would say, dressmakers and haberdashers would fill every corner. Collapsing buildings on Havana’s Caribbean waterfront? The blockade itself dissolves the mortar that holds bricks together. Seaside structures naturally tumble onto sidewalks. ‘Thanks a million, Yanquis.’

Mr. Castro never explains how the U.S. embargo spawns his country’s woes when Cuba may import whatever it wants from Asia, Canada, Europe and Latin America. The trouble is the Cuban economy wheezes like an asthmatic during a smog alert. Nonetheless, the embargo gives Mr. Castro a handy whipping boy for his multifarious failings. If Washington will not end this counterproductive policy today, it certainly should do so as soon as Mr. Castro kicks the bucket.

Second, Washington should transform Cuba into a giant free-trade zone. The fastest way to bring Cuba out of the 1950s and into the 2000s is to let Cubans produce whatever they wish and export it to America without tariffs, quotas and other obstructions. In exchange, Americans should be free to sell Cubans whatever they care to purchase without worrying about Havana imposing trade barriers.

During a 1993 fact-finding mission to Cuba, I was impressed with the Cubans’ energy and ingenuity. Cars built during the Eisenhower era still ran because Cubans simply invented auto parts out of tin cans and rubber tubing to substitute for those manufactured while Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz appeared in brand-new episodes of “I Love Lucy.” Given unfettered access to America’s market, Cubans would develop a lifeline that soon would nurture them to financial well-being.

Third, as part of this economic aperture, the U.S. should terminate the absurd and destructive federal sugar program. Government-fixed prices and restrictions on foreign sugar supplies hit Americans in their wallets. As Timothy P. Carney explains in his new Wiley book, “The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money,” “From 1998 until 2004, American consumers have paid an average of about $1.8 billion more for food annually because of these import quotas.” Such restrictions also export poverty to tropical nations that could benefit by selling sugar to American buyers.

Given its sultry climate and proximity to the U.S., Cuba could resume the sugar shipments Eisenhower halted in 1960. Becoming America’s sugar bowl would provide Cuba a steady stream of cash while obviating the federal subsidies that encourage sugar farming in Florida. Absent such outrageous payments, the Everglades and its wildlife would stop choking on pesticides and other chemicals that flow in from taxpayer-supported sugar plantations.

Finally, Uncle Sam should smile on greater travel to and from Cuba by both Americans and Cubans. Family ties broken since as far back as Jan. 1, 1959 — when Mr. Castro seized power from strongman Fulgencio Batista — could be restored, and new relationships developed. Integrating the American and Cuban populations would make it likelier Cuba will prosper and graduate from nearby menace into close ally.

Such active steps toward a Cuban renaissance could serve the U.S. well throughout Latin America. Seeing the Gringos nurture Cuba back to prosperity would provide a strong counterexample to the anti-American populism of Venezuelan despot Hugo Chavez and his leftist pals in Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Now, all Comandante Castro needs to do to set these wheels in motion is drop dead.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.

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