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by Oliver North
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.
Washington, DC – Now that the fate of six year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez has been sealed, Fidel Castro and the Clinton Administration can get back into bed – with each other. For four months the media maelstrom swirling around the little refugee has been highly troublesome to power brokers in Havana, Washington and Wall Street. Not because they cared about the child, but because he was getting in the way of business. Janet Reno’s solution to the "Elian problem," allows them to negotiate an end to U.S. sanctions against the Western Hemisphere’s last communist dictator.
For four decades, American presidents treated Fidel Castro like the thug that he is. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush all had to contend with Castro’s routine repression of the 11 million Cuban people. All had to deal with unforeseen waves of refugees when Castro periodically tightened his iron fist. Some had to deal with direct risks to U.S. security – like Soviet nuclear missiles, bomber bases and intelligence collection sites 90 miles from our shores. Others had to confront Castro’s indirect threats – Cuban drug running and support for far flung communist insurgencies and revolutions – from Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean. And for nearly forty years, a bipartisan majority in Congress supported these presidents in maintaining economic sanctions against Cuba and withholding full diplomatic recognition for the Havana regime. All that is about to end – and not a minute too soon for William The Impeached.
Most observers think that the Clinton campaign slogan, "It’s The Economy, Stupid!" is a "domestic policy." It’s not. It’s part of William J. Clinton’s worldview: "I feel your pain. If I can help you improve your economy, then you’ll be better off and we can have peace, love and harmony." That’s what was behind his "normalization" of relations with Hanoi in 1994. That’s what is motivating his push for permanent MFN status and WTO membership for Communist China. And that’s why he wants to end economic sanctions against the Castro regime in Havana. And he has some powerful allies in his cause.
This week, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said that the "unique nature of our relationship with Cuba…ought to be revisited." Mr. Daschele’s words were widely ignored. So too was last week’s trip to Cuba – sanctioned by the Clinton Administration - by 150 U.S. entrepreneurs – one of the largest delegations of American businessmen and women to visit the island since the Castro regime nationalized almost all private enterprises in 1959. The business leaders departed Havana just as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived to address representatives of the so-called G77 nations who went to Cuba to grouse about how American taxpayers should do more to finance their socialist, and sometimes repressive governments.
While there, Mr. Annan, apparently forgetting that his UN Human Rights Commission had just branded Castro’s government as "…one of the world’s most repressive abusers of human rights," took shots at the American embargo instead: "Notwithstanding the embargo," Annan declared, "Cuba’s achievements in social development are impressive…Cuba should be the envy of many other nations ostensibly far richer."
The problem for Mr. Clinton, Mr. Annan – and American business leaders who see Cuba as a "market" and a "labor pool" – is the law. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act, better known as Helms-Burton, was enacted in 1996 to promote three objectives: to strengthen international sanctions against the brutal Castro government; to support and encourage a free and independent Cuba, and; to protect the interests of Americans whose property was confiscated by Castro’s government.
But even if the law was changed and sanctions were lifted, what would it do for the people of Cuba? Frank Calzon, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba, says that those who argue for American investment in Cuba are well intentioned, but misguided. Castro’s government will benefit, not the Cuban people. Calzon told me: "All the companies that do business in Cuba pay the Cuban government $9,500 a year per worker, and then the Cuban government pays the Cuban worker $20 a month."
Lifting the embargo won’t permit the good people of Cuba to avail themselves of American-made consumer products. Unless the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank bail out the Castro regime with billions in U.S. taxpayer-guaranteed loans, they can’t afford our computers, refrigerators, cars, trucks or even tires. The State Department admits as much: "The Cuban economy is still recovering from a decline in gross domestic product of at least 35 percent …due to the loss of Soviet subsidies." So, if the Cuban people don’t have cash to buy our products, why are American businesses so eager to get into Castro’s island paradise? Simple. They want access to cheap, government-controlled labor so they can produce goods more cheaply and ship them back to the U.S. market.
How dare little Elian get in the way of business!