Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chaos after Castro?


Another foreign policy blunder continuing without a break for 48 years on our doorstep could explode soon and cast doubts on the judgment of the last 10 U.S. presidents.

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is now 80 years old and failing. So, Bush administration agencies are preparing for this nightmare: The possibility that if Castro dies tens of thousands of Cubans would flee for Florida or across the fence into the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo on Cuban soil, while hundreds of boaters in Florida would race toward Cuba to pick up more thousands of relatives and friends.

Agencies led by the Coast Guard in southern Florida conducted a drill last week to prevent those scenarios. The Navy also is building a 10,000-bed facility at Guantanamo for a possible flood of refugees.

However, stemming a new tide of refugees may be pure Washington wishful thinking. Policy toward Cuba has been formulated not by reason or diplomatic skill but by impulsive, seat-of-the-pants politics of nearly 1 million Cuban Americans in southern Florida. So, how dare Washington deny them a chance to help relatives flee Cuba? Furthermore, where would the shorthanded Coast Guard find forces to stop boatlift stampedes and also protect ports from terrorists?

Beginning with the last days of the Eisenhower administration, presidents through Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Elder, Clinton and Bush the Junior have pandered to Cuban American whims to isolate Cuba with ever tougher sanctions they vowed would bring down Castro.

This was nitwit thinking, of course. Castro survived. In the process, a far more effective strategy was sidelined for lack of Latin machismo—resuming trade with Castro, spreading free enterprise in the destitute communist island and thereby weaning Cubans off Marxist habits and probably obviating current fears of an explosive refugee exodus.

Bungling policy toward Cuba parallels policy in Iraq, which is dictated by a handful of armchair neocon theorists with their heads in the clouds.

Billions of tax dollars have been spent enforcing the embargo against Castro and housing and processing tens of thousands of Cuban refugees while sacrificing billions of dollars in lost sales of U.S. products to Cuba.

And because of southern Florida's testy Cuban-American population, politicians have kept Washington on a short leash with promises of election support and the costs will be even higher in post-Castro Cuba. Like Sunnis and Shiites struggling for control of Iraq, stay-behind Cuban communists and Cubans in Florida will battle for control of the threadbare island, inevitably dragging the United States into another nation-building debacle.

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