President Clinton's latest package of concessions to the Castro regime represents a preemptive capitulation to a crumbling dictatorship, and a repudiation of decades of bipartisan opposition to Castro. The President's flip-flop--consistent only with the Administration's record of foreign policy inconsistency--heralds an "all-carrot-no-stick" approach to an international pariah, a policy in stark contrast to the measures that America took to contain and then dismantle Soviet totalitarianism.
The Castro regime, one of the most repressive in the world, is a throw-back to the worst excesses of Soviet tyranny. Rather than responding to the collapse of the Soviet empire with fundamental reforms of his own, Castro has tightened his repression. Beginning in 1990, the Red Cross was denied access to prisoners. In 1992, the regime began a savage crackdown on human rights activists, which was intensified last year. Today, hundreds of political prisoners are in jail or awaiting trial. Political dissent in any form is a crime. Political and civil organizations other than the Cuban Communist Party are banned. The only freedoms are for the drug-traffickers whom Castro welcomes, and for the money launderers who find in Cuba a haven from American justice.
As an economic system, Communism has failed as pitifully in Cuba as it did everywhere else. With the $6 billion-a-year subsidy from the Soviet Union long gone, Cuba's economy is mired in a prolonged depression. Total production is half its 1989 level, and external debt is soaring. As a result, Cuba has been in default on its foreign debt for almost a decade. Since 1990, Castro has imposed a "special period in peacetime"--a draconian austerity program reminiscent of the Stalinist era that has seen the Cuban economy regress to a level characteristic of pre-industrial societies.
In this "workers' paradise," where the average monthly wage is $10, the government freely resorts to forced labor. A caste system has emerged in which the few available economic crumbs are used to buy the support of the institutions that prop up this corrupt regime--the Army and the secret police. Environmental and health standards have fallen even further in the increasingly desperate quest to make the country's statist economy function.
Yet at this moment, when this corrupt and tyrannical regime is near collapse, the Clinton Administration has chosen to provide Castro with the means of prolonging his grip on power. By allowing American media organizations to establish permanent headquarters in Cuba, the Administration is effectively infusing Castro's economy with vital American currency. And the Administration policy of "exchange" would allow Castro's handpicked operatives to spread their propaganda in the United States--and help generate new sources of hard currency for the regime.
Worst of all, the Administration's action will further erode the credibility of the remaining U.S. sanctions. Both our allies and foreign investors cannot mistake the implications of President Clinton's actions, and will now see a green light for investment in a country with slave wages and no employee protections. Any such foreign capital infusion to prop up Castro's Cuba, with its exploitative and environmentally-destructive production conditions, would also result in unfair competition to producers around the world. And it would do nothing to help the Cuban people. All foreign investment funds must be paid directly into Castro's coffers; the ordinary Cubans who work on these foreign projects receive from the government only a Marxist pittance for their labors.
And what concessions has Castro offered in response to this policy of appeasement? Virtually nothing--no improvement in human rights, political liberties, or treatment of political dissidents. Certainly no concessions to the expropriated property holders--many of them U.S. citizens from whom Castro seized assets now worth $6 billion.
We need only listen to Castro's own officials to understand how the Administration is allowing itself to be manipulated. With his country desperate for foreign exchange, Castro's Minister of Foreign Investment has called for more investment from overseas. But, he says, Cuba's goal in seeking foreign investment "is not a transition to capitalism. It is an opening to defend and develop socialism, and that fact is not hidden by our government."
The Clinton Administration has turned a deaf ear to this reality, as it has to the Cuban people's cry for freedom. In 1994, when Castro cynically sought to export his political problems by suspending his anti-emigration policies, 30,000 Cubans courageously took to flimsy rafts to seek freedom in America. The Clinton Administration responded by suspending the United States' decades-old policy of granting asylum to these freedom seekers, and reached a pact with Castro to shut down the exodus.
The President's new policy of warming up to Castro's government will strengthen Castro at his most vulnerable moment since 1960, introducing American currency into the Cuban economy at a time when it is near collapse. What's more, this recent announcement is proof that the Administration has effectively decoupled political, human, and labor rights from U.S. economic policies, starting the U.S. on the road to normalization of relations, with or without political reform.
House Republicans have a better solution. Our Cuba Liberty and Democracy Act of 1995--the Libertad Act--passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan margin of 294-130, and is rapidly moving through the Senate.
Our bill strikes at the heart of Castro's political power by tightening trade sanctions, while crippling Castro's ability to finance his regime with a sell-off of property stolen from U.S. nationals in Cuba. Just as importantly, the bill bolsters the transmission of Radio and TV Marti--which for years have been the sole voice of freedom and democracy--to broaden their availability to all Cubans. Finally, the bill puts into place real democracy-building efforts: it aims to strengthen genuinely independent groups in Cuba, give assistance to victims of political repression, support international human rights monitors, and prepare now for a future, post-Castro Cuba.
The United States hastened the collapse of the Soviet bloc by taking strong, credible, and consistent policies against the Soviet regime and its puppet states, and by demanding improvements in political, human, and labor rights before normalizing economic and cultural relations. Our policies of strength--the commitment to democratic principles which helped transform the rest of the Soviet bloc--must now be applied to one of the last remaining outposts of the Soviet imperium. President Clinton would have it otherwise, sacrificing those principles for the illusory benefits of "normalized relations" with this abnormal regime--the last dictatorship in the hemisphere.
Republicans in Congress believe it is time to abandon Clinton's policy of surrender, and to implement a policy of hope for all Cubans.