We have an updated list from the White House of dreadful countries. President Bush went to the United Nations to denounce the governments of Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Cuba as “brutal regimes.” Not long before that, the State Department released its current list of bad actors that support terrorism. It’s pretty much the same — Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and, once again, Cuba. Cuba?
It’s not that Fidel Castro, 81 and ailing, has revised his view of the world. But he hardly is a danger any longer. Indeed, he has been so markedly given up for dead lately that he thought it necessary a few days before the president’s speech to appear on television to prove he is still alive. In the style of song writer Stephen Sondheim, he announced, “I’m still here.” Yet he appeared more like an apparition from a show by Gilbert and Sullivan, flailing his way toward the final curtain.
Nor is there much to fear from his brother, Raul, now running the sorry state. Raul is no humanitarian, but he’s no Fidel either, and Cuba is no Iran. It doesn’t belong on the same list with the axis-of-evil gang. Indeed, Carlos Fonts, a Dallas businessman originally from Havana, has said that Raul has “the charisma of a turnip.”
Though prisons in Cuba are overflowing with political inmates, and Bush surely was right about the quiet doom that hovers still over that unhappy land, nonetheless, it did seem gratuitous to speak so harshly about Fidel at the U.N. that Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and his delegation sprang to their feet and walked out.
Of course, Fidel Castro has been a “cruel dictator,” just as the president said, and his “long rule” is “nearing its end,” true enough, but what was the point of pointing that out beyond 27 Electoral College votes in Florida?
The administration started planning for the post-Castro years when Colin Powell was Secretary of State. He led a commission that in 2004 called for sending 100,000 tons of food to Cuba and mounting a major effort to upgrade health, education, aviation and railroads. The U.S. would help hold elections and establish independent trade unions. But that was back in the nation-building days of the Bush presidency, before it became apparent that Cuba may well evolve more slowly than some have expected. Nor can we know for certain what direction will unfold. It may be toward democratic institutions. It may not.
Meanwhile there is little to be gained from hectoring a tired and tiresome regime that is yesterday’s news. It doesn’t do us much good elsewhere in the hemisphere and may only cultivate resentment of the United States. The best approach is to ease sanctions, open up Cuba and force Castro the younger to cope, not with hostile rhetoric, but with the forces of the modern world