As East-West relations enter a new era in Europe, Cold War tension still prevails between the United States and Cuba. Last summer the Bush administration announced the continuation of the TV Marti program of broadcasting into Cuba. The current budget funds this activity full-time with $16 million. It is all part of the U.S. campaign to topple Fidel Castro, a campaign now entering its fourth decade.
There is a better way. To force Cuba along the way of Poland, East Germany and other former Soviet clients now embracing capitalism and Western-style democracy, the Bush administration should reach beyond merely introducing more propaganda and invade the island with American goods and services. It should do this by ending the U.S. economic embargo.
It's not mere coincidence that the Communist nations the United States has embargo policies against -- nations such as Vietnam and North Korea -- are the ones whose leaders have the tightest grip on power. The U.S. embargo against Cuba, while successful in punishing the country for Castro's adventurism abroad, has provided him with a scapegoat for his country's economic woes and an easy target to rally support against. By removing the embargo, the United States would force Castro to take the responsibility for his economic mismanagement and treasury-draining expeditions in Angola and Ethiopia.
The timing is right for ending the embargo. The United States, and the Bush administration, would gain greatly. A potential military thorn would be removed from the side of the United States in a period of scarce defense resources. Lifting the embargo could be used as leverage to extract concessions from Castro. U.S. companies would have a major market opened close to home. Americans who lost property after the revolution would have a better chance of recovery. President Bush would enhance his status as a peacemaker and statesman. After standing up to Saddam Hussein in the Middle East, he would show up Gorbachev and Castro by aiding a much smaller, economically depressed nation in his own back yard.
As much as the United States and Bush would have to gain, Castro would lose if the embargo were ended. Lifting the embargo would result in a severe loss of face for Castro and deal him and his image a powerful psychological blow. For decades, the United States treated Castro as a major power, elevating his international stature far beyond his actual role as an actor on the global stage. By removing the embargo, the United States would not only deny Castro his persona as David pitted against an economic Yanqui Goliath, but reveal to the world that Cuba is now regarded as less of a threat than other nations America has embargoes against, such as Albania. Moscow has already discounted Castro, informing him that goods supplied from 1991 will be hard-currency transactions at market prices as Cuba no longer rates the billions in annual subsidies it has received since the early 1960s.
In addition to the loss of prestige, Castro would also suffer a reduction of his control over Cuba. When affluent Cuban exiles returned to the island in the 1980s bearing presents and unobtainable luxury items, decades of Castro's propaganda were disproved and discredited. In the past two months, more than 200 additional items have been rationed in Cuba, with further fuel restrictions expected. Introducing consumer products to a nation hungry in peacetime is much more effective than an attack against one prepared for war. An invasion of U.S. goods and services would demonstrate the folly of socialism in a manner impossible for Castro to defeat or deny.
According to the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, the most effective way to defeat an adversary is by destroying not his cities or armies but how he views the world. Any pretenses of socialism working as a viable economic system would be destroyed in Cuba after the introduction of U.S. products. Castro has said that for Cuba that there is only "socialism or death." By removing the embargo and letting goods and services flow into Cuba, Castro's political demise would be accomplished.
The writer is a former congressional aide.