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Powell and Castro

Sunday, 13 May 2001 12:00 AM

This weekend, while traveling through Asia, dictator Fidel Castro had some kind words for Powell.

"He is the only one who has dared to say that Cuba has done something good," Castro said of Powell.

Castro was referring to testimony that Powell gave to Congress last month, claiming that Castro had done some good things, noting his education programs.

By the same token, Powell could have said that Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini had also done some good things for their countries. But he wouldn't make such a statement because it would make him look ridiculous.

A careful examination of Cuba's record – one that Powell should know – is that it is one of the most brutal regimes in the world. His own State Department's annual report on Cuba outlines the harsh reality: murder, torture, and repression based on almost every criteria: race, religion, and more. Journalists are regularly arrested.

What is Powell trying to achieve?

He may be pursuing a desire for "engagement" – opening trade with Cuba.

If that is true, Powell should take note of what happened after Elian was returned to Castro.

Remember last year, the press talked about how the return of Elian could open up a new era of good relations with Cuba. President Clinton gave the dictator what he wanted: the crying Elian.

The results?

That was made clear in a report issued last month by Amnesty International. The left-leaning organization reports that repression in Castro's Cuba increased markedly in the latter half of 2000. That's right, after Elian returned, after the Pope's visit, after all the press coddling of the Cuban madman – more repression!

Powell's comments are naive and dangerous, especially coming from a Secretary of State who should be championing, not Castro, but the cause of freedom in Cuba.

There has been an argument made by some that we should "engage" Cuba, lift the trade embargo. The thinking goes that an influx of American dollars and tourists will miraculously "liberate" the enslaved nation.

The argument for such a policy – one that Powell may like – should be considered in light of several facts.

One is that Cuba has open trade policies with almost the whole world, including Canada, the European Union and Latin America.

If Castro really wanted to change and liberalize his controlled-economy, Cuba already should have benefited from these huge capital pools. They haven't, and the reason is simple: Castro.

Consider that a few years ago, Castro opened up certain areas in Cuba for real estate investment by foreigners. Money from Europe flooded in to Cuba, with outside investors figuring they would get in on the "ground floor" of a new Cuba.

Castro taught these folks a lesson.

Last year, his government, without warning, announced that any foreigner who bought property in Cuba would not be allowed to re-sell said property. Poof – up in smoke went the investment of these foreigners.

In recent weeks, media pundits have said that if America can have free trade with China then we should have the same policy with Cuba.

Castro's Cuba, however, is not China.

For all of the problems the U.S. now faces with China, over almost three decades China has had a welcoming, outstretched hand to Americans, and so far, hasn't played any fast ones with foreign capital as has Castro.

The Chinese have demonstrated a willingness to "bend." Still, China may prove that engagement does not work after all.

Castro should not be our next guinea pig.

We should see what happens in China first, and we should continue to expose Castro's treachery, not find reasons to praise him.

Ernest Betancourt, a former adviser to Castro who defected and went on to serve as director of Radio Marti, was on C-SPAN this weekend.

He said Americans don't understand that Castro has no interest in making nice with America. He could have done that long ago. Betancourt says Castro has a personal, passionate hatred of America and has long dreamed of helping to destroy the U.S.

A sound foreign policy would not want to strengthen such a dictator by opening trade – and with it what Castro really wants – access to the world's credit markets such as the World Bank and IMF.

Make no mistake about it, Castro remains the same blood-thirsty revolutionary – nothing has changed.

Just last month, his Defense Minister and brother, Raul, was saying that Cuba still needs to prepare for a war with the U.S.

Why, then, would our Secretary of State have anything nice to say about such a dictator?

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This weekend, while traveling through Asia, dictator Fidel Castro had some kind words for Powell. He is the only one who has dared to say that Cuba has done something good, Castro said of Powell. Castro was referring to testimony that Powell gave to Congress last month,...
Sunday, 13 May 2001 12:00 AM
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