US policy on Cuba doesn’t work |

US policy on Cuba doesn’t work

Oh goody, we’re cracking down on Cuba again. President Bush wants to punish unauthorized travel to Cuba and plans to increase financing for groups on the island opposed to Castro.

We have cracked down on Cuba under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and now Bush II. Fat lot of good it’s done anyone so far. But you have to admire George W. for sticking to this pointless exercise. Our policy may not work, but it shows perseverance.

Unfortunately, so does Fidel Castro. We are reduced to sitting around hoping he’ll die, which is not a shrewd foreign policy. You’ve probably noticed that men with political power tend to live very long lives. Richard Aregood once wrote a two-sentence obituary: “They say only the good die young. Francisco Franco was 86.”

America has been in a snit about Castro since shortly after the Earth’s crust cooled. It has led the country into some of its most memorable follies, including the Bay of Pigs and the time the CIA tried to make Castro’s beard fall out.

In experimental psychology, there is a phenomenon called “over-learning,” which can be plotted on a bell curve. I once had a lab rat that committed over-learning and consequently developed something called neurotic ritual. When frustrated, it would turn around three times to the left, tossing its little ratty head and then sort of fall over backward. I still feel guilty about ruining a perfectly good rat, but it was helpful in identifying the reactions of the Cuban Desk at the State Department. Neurotic ritual born of frustration after over-learning.

Some scholars have recently taken a look at American foreign policy in the 20th century, trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Most of it didn’t. The one shining exception, the great success of the century, was the Marshall Plan, under which we committed mucho dinero to rebuilding Europe after World War II. Had we been really shrewd, we would have invested in a couple of other Marshall Plans by now, notably in Mexico, thus saving them and us significant pain.

Far be it from me to defend Castro – anyone who puts writers in jail is a Bad Man – but surely we can think of some more intelligent way to approach this. As anyone who has traveled to Cuba can tell you, every time we attack Castro, it shores up his popularity.

It’s estimated that Texas executes almost three times more people per capita than Cuba does, making our human-rights argument pretty weak. (Texas may also be ahead of China in executions per capital, as well). Information for both these countries is unreliable, however – their total execution numbers may be higher.

Bush II says he will “enforce the law to the fullest extent” to stop “unlicensed and excessive travel.” Cuban-Americans, who have permission to travel, account for 120,000 of the 200,000 American visitors to the island each year. Word has gotten around that Cuba is a great place for a cheap beach vacation, so Canadians and Europeans flock there. Americans who want to go simply leave from Mexico. Now Bush says they can be fined up to $7,500.

Just what is the point? Your average beach vacationer is not likely to join the Communist Party, though tourism does help prop up Cuba’s economy. Actually, its economy is growing at a thumping 7 percent a year, but “unlicensed and excessive” American travelers don’t account for any noticeable portion of that. This is a limitation on American freedom, not a boost for Cuban freedom. Cutting off our nose …

As to funding groups opposed to Castro, our record in this regard is not terrific. How happy would we be if Cuba started pouring money into groups dedicated to overthrowing our government? This kind of crass interference south of border is precisely what foments anti-American sentiment there.

The corporate Cold War mentality of this administration just gets weirder and weirder. If you thought the Cabinet was a little heavy on corporate types, check out the second-tier appointments. The new secretary of the Air Force is James Roche, vice president of Northrup Grumman, the giant defense contractor, which wants billions in new Air Force contracts. The secretary of the Navy is Gordon England, vice president of General Dynamics, which is seeking billions in new contracts from the Navy.

The same spirit of corporate participation is found in other second-tier appointments as well, according to Jim Hightower’s newsletter. Bush named Linda Fisher, the top lobbyist for Monsanto in Washington, to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Bush picked James Conaughton, a Washington lawyer for ARCO and General Electric, to head the Council on Environmental Quality. And for the No. 2 slot at the Interior Department, which oversees mining on public land, none other than J. Steven Griles, lobbyist for the National Mining Association.

It’s possible W. has a darker sense of humor than anyone has suspected.

– Molly Ivins appears on Fridays.

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