U.S. support for Cuban dissidents ill advised
May 30, 2001
For more than four decades, Congress has passed scores of counterproductive bills relating to U.S.-Cuba policy. And the trend has yet to let up.
In the newest piece of legislative folly, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., joins with Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and nine other senators to present the Cuban Solidarity Act, which the senate will likely consider in the fall. If passed, the bill would mandate Congress to send $100 million to Cuba over the next four years, primarily to aid opponents of Fidel Castro.
The senators want the money sent to aspiring capitalists (a group discouraged by the Cuban system), to supposedly independent journalists, union organizers and others who want U.S.-style political change in Cuba.
The bill's backers claim that it will mark the beginning of the end for Cuba's long-term ruler.
But the plan has several flaws.
First of all, none of the island's dissenters have accumulated a substantial following. Funding a disorganized group that has little backing would prove futile.
Second, Castro has discredited many of the dissidents by revealing that they have received direct support from officials of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana. (In lieu of formal diplomatic relations, Washington and Havana agreed in 1977 to establish interest sections in each other's capitals.) U.S. State Department officials in Havana supply the dissenters and their groups with generous payments of money and goods.
Third, Castro's political police has infiltrated the dissenting groups. If the new law should pass, some, if not much, of the money targeted at Castro's opponents would flow back to the Cuban Ministry of Interior.
Cuba's National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon called the proposed aid package "illegitimate" and "arrogant."
In mid-May, the 74-year-old Cuban president told members of the press corps in Havana that politicians in Washington "continue making mistakes" and "are using their heads very little."
Both Helms and Lieberman have received sizable campaign contributions from the Cuban American National Foundation, the most prominent anti-Castro lobby. In previous legislation aimed against the Cuban president, some of the actual money remained in the United States and provided jobs and services for supporters of the foundation.
President Bush, who owes a large political debt to ultraconservative Cubans in South Florida, pledged full White House support for the Helms-Lieberman legislation. In May, Bush told a group of visiting South Florida-based Cubans that Castro "has no place at the democratic table. Indeed, his nation is not free, but enslaved. He is the last holdout of the hemisphere, and time is not on his side." Yet Bush is the 10th U.S. president who has tried to evict Castro.
During Castro's 42 years as head of Cuba, the United States has attempted assassination, terrorism and sabotage, an economic embargo and a ban on travel, among various other attempts to bring down the government.
It's time for the U.S. Congress to accept reality. After more than four decades of hostility, the United States has failed to destabilize Castro. Congress should remove the ineffective embargo that punishes the Cuban people.
Saul Landau is the director of digital media and international outreach for the college of letters, arts and social sciences at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is also a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Landau has made documentaries on Cuba and Castro for PBS and CBS that are distributed by the Cinema Guild in New York City. He can be reached at email@example.com.