The New York Times. June 15, 2001
After four decades of isolation and repression under Fidel Castro's
Communist rule, Cuba's surviving democrats would seem to be worthy candidates
for American sympathy and support. Washington's 39-year-old trade embargo has
scarcely helped their cause, and a fresh new American approach is surely needed.
But proposed legislation in Congress that for the first time would provide
direct financial support to internal Cuban dissidents would be likely to do more
harm than good.
House and Senate bills would authorize the Bush administration to send $100
million over four years in cash, food, medicine, telephones, fax machines and
educational materials to dissidents and independent opposition groups in Cuba.
Senators Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, not
usually political allies, jointly introduced the Senate version and say their
goal is to provide opponents of Mr. Castro in Cuba with the tools they need to
subsist and continue their work. President Bush recently endorsed the idea in
principle. But with Democrats now in control of the Senate, some Congressional
sources say chances of passage have dimmed.
Advocates of such assistance have not identified which groups and
individuals would qualify for assistance, nor how they would be identified and
by whom. It is unclear how Americans could overcome the obstacles that Cuban
authorities would erect to impede or manipulate delivery of such assistance.
Even if aid actually managed to reach legitimate democrats and independent
groups, the assistance would mark them as paid agents of the United States.
That is why some of Cuba's most prominent dissidents have publicly opposed
such aid. They include Elizardo Sanchez, perhaps Cuba's most respected human
rights activist, who has said that American aid to Cuban dissidents would simply
provide the Castro government with more ammunition with which to discredit them.
The new legislation has been endorsed by the Cuban American National
Foundation, the largest and most influential of the anti-Communist exile groups
and still a vigorous supporter of Washington's obsolete trade embargo against
Cuba. Foundation leaders have hailed the new plan as evidence that they are
prepared to move beyond merely isolating Mr. Castro's regime. Fresh new thinking
on a stubborn problem like Cuba is surely welcome, but this idea, like the
embargo, seems likely to be counterproductive.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company