Tuesday, December 30, 2008

As Castro's Cuba turns 50, it's time to end the fight

By DeWayne Wickham

Like a couple of punch drunk boxers who have stayed in the ring long after the blows they rain on each can produce a decisive victory, Cuba and the United States are still flailing at each other half a century after Fidel Castro’s revolution succeeded.

In the world of geopolitics, this ought to be the definition of insanity. Cuba’s brand of communism turns 50 on New Year’s Day. That it has survived so long is a testament to the resiliency of this one-party state, which — despite the claims of its critics — has widespread support among the Cuban people.

But longevity alone is no predictor of survival. For the past 50 years, Cuba has been a nation under siege, rallying people to its defense with calls to patriotism and the fear that another U.S. occupation force will descend upon the island nation that sits just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Between 1898 and 1933, the United States sent military forces into Cuba four times. After the Castro regime came to power in 1959, American government operatives helped arm and train an invasion force of Cuban exiles that was defeated in the 1961 Bays of Pigs invasion.

“I have spent all of my adult life in the trenches,” Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, once told me. He was talking about the time he’s spent defending Cuba’s communist regime from U.S. efforts to topple it.

Alarcon won’t escape that trench any time soon — nor is it likely there will be an appreciable change in U.S.-Cuban relations in the next 50 years — if the two countries continue their fistfight. It’s time for Cuba and the U.S. to replace their pugilism with diplomacy — time for both to make some meaningful concessions to bring this fight to an end.

And just what concessions do I have in mind? Well, to begin with, the incoming Obama administration should shut down Radio and TV Marti, the federally funded Spanish-language stations that attempt to penetrate Cuba’s airwaves with “news” shows largely controlled by Cuban exiles in south Florida. In return, Cuba should open its broadcast airwaves to legitimate news programs that come from beyond its borders so that its people — like those in many other countries — can get a broader perspective of the world.

The Castro government should free all of its so-called “political prisoners,” in return for which the Obama government should stop giving aid and comfort to Cuba’s political dissidents.

The Obama administration should return the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to Cuba. Control of that land was coerced from Cuba more than a century ago as a condition for ending the first U.S. military occupation of that island. In return for this giveback, Cuba should agree to allow its citizens to freely travel abroad and emigrate anywhere they want.

Cuba should admit that in shooting down two unarmed planes in 1996 it overreacted to the provocations of the south Florida exile group that operated those flights. The United States should apologize for not putting Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles on trial for their alleged roles in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that took 76 lives.

Congress should end the economic embargo of Cuba — and the Castro government should open Cuba’s political process to all comers.

Of course all of these actions will draw a blood curdling cry from those who still hope for a knockout punch in the U.S.-Cuba political fistfight. But the more rational among us know the time has come to get these old combatants to take off their boxing gloves.

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