COLUMN LEFT/ ROBERT G. TORRICELLI : Let Democracy Shine Through an Open Door : We don’t have to accept Castro to increase ties with Cuba.

<i> Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) is chairman of the House subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs</i>

At the end of this year, Fidel Castro will complete 33 years as president of Cuba. In that time, eight successive U.S. administrations have sought his demise through invasion, covert action, isolation and embargo. Most of them considered their Cuba policies a success. It is difficult to find the evidence.

By the Bush Administration’s own testimony, Cuba remains a tyranny where political orthodoxy is brutally enforced, basic human rights are nonexistent and removal of the government through the ballot box is inconceivable. Wherever there is a revolution to support, Castro supports it. And at the United Nations, Cuba’s vote can be counted on by virtually any country in the world that wishes us ill.

The Bush Administration and I do not differ on Cuba’s list of offenses. But citing them does not constitute a policy. The time is ripe for a proactive U.S. policy that will increase the likelihood of Cuba’s joining the community of democracies that is today’s Western Hemisphere.


In the Administration’s failure to move actively to accelerate the pace of change in Cuba, threats to U.S. interests are becoming graver. The United States is again feeling the fallout of Cuba’s repressive system, as Cubans in increasing numbers are fleeing the island in rafts, in some cases hijacking pleasure boats to take them to Florida. After the Cuban government relaxed its controls on exit permits a few weeks ago, the U.S. interests section in Havana was flooded by 80,000 tourist visa applications and had to suspend accepting more. If the past is any guide, 30% of those “tourists” will never return to Cuba.

Even more worrisome than this “people fallout” is the danger of literal fallout from a Cuban nuclear-power plant being built without adequate international safeguards 90 miles off our coast.

These are just a few of the reasons for taking a new approach to Cuba. The current policy debate is too simplistic, pitting proponents of a harder line against advocates of accommodation, isolation against opening. What is needed is a mix: selective isolation of Cuba’s government and careful opening to Cuban society.

On the “tougher” side, two actions are needed. First, no matter how serious their economic crisis, the Soviets need to understand, as President Bush said in Moscow, that it is politically not admissible for them to ask for U.S. aid while they continue to provide support for Cuba. Estimates of Soviet aid have ranged from $1 billion to more than $5 billion per year, but any subsidy is unacceptable.

We also should aggressively apply the instruments that are available to increase the economic costs to Castro of continuing his current policies. These might include limitations on vessels that visit U.S. ports on their way to or from Cuba; enforcement of embargo sanctions against U.S. subsidiaries operating in countries that trade with Cuba; and changes in our immigration policies to prevent Castro from using the United States as a safety valve for his political and economic problems.

At the same time, we need to reach out to the people of Cuba and make clear that our disagreements are with their government’s policies and not with them. This implies that while we are tightening some aspects of the embargo, we might loosen others. We have yet to truly challenge Castro in the area that ultimately will be his undoing: the free flow of ideas.

The dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have taught us that simple steps that put people in touch with each other can have important political consequences. Soviet underground literature was copied for distribution on machines supplied by the West. In Poland, Solidarity used U.S.-supplied facsimile machines to distribute its newspaper.

The Cuban people should have the same opportunity. We should aggressively expand educational, cultural and scientific exchanges to demonstrate to Cubans the freedoms we prize in this country, and to help us identify and gain the confidence of future leaders. We should allow increased phone service with the island. We should provide facsimile machines to human-rights, church and professional organizations, which would permit them to speak over the head of the Cuban government to fellow democrats throughout the world.

We have a historic opportunity to influence the degree, the pace, even the nature of the change that everyone but Fidel Castro agrees must come to Cuba. To do so requires a sophisticated policy that goes beyond rhetoric and the status quo, one that mixes carrots and sticks into a coherent whole designed to penalize Cuba’s current policy while nurturing and rewarding change. Then, the days of the Americas’ last dictator might number in the hundreds rather than the thousands.