WORLD

SQUEEZING CASTRO

Canada is threatened with retaliation by Americans

CARL MOLLINS May 15 1995
WORLD

SQUEEZING CASTRO

Canada is threatened with retaliation by Americans

CARL MOLLINS May 15 1995

SQUEEZING CASTRO

WORLD

Canada is threatened with retaliation by Americans

CARL MOLLINS

REPORT PROM WASHINGTON

In the south Florida city of Miami on April 17, two guest speakers from Washington addressed separate audiences on the same subject—a potentially explosive dispute over U.S. relations with Cuba that re verberates angrily in Ottawa and other capitals. Canadian Ambassador Raymond Chrétien, in a speech to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, objected to proposed made-inWashington measures that “intend to regulate what Canadians in Canada can and cannot do” in trade with Fidel Castro’s Cuba. U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, speaking to expatriate Cubans as chief promoter of the plan to expand sanctions against the Caribbean island, denounced Canada and other countries that do business with Cuba as “a pain in the neck.” On the same day in New York City, Castro confidant Ricardo Alarcon attacked the Helms plan for pushing the United States and Cuba back on to a “collision course.” Castro had warned that tougher sanctions could trigger another surge of Cuban rafters to Florida. And in Washington, authorities foresaw a dangerous summer demanding possible military action off Florida’s coast Early last week, after returning to their respective capitals from a secretly arranged weekend meeting in Toronto, Alarcón and U.S. undersecretary of state Peter Tarnoff announced an agreed attempt to forestall trouble. U.S. and Cuban authorities will cooperate to “regularize” the migration of Cubans to the United States. As well, on the eve of the Toronto talks, President Bill Clinton’s administration broke three months of silence on Helms’s sanctions bill and sent Congress a six-page critique that calls for many corrections. Helms stood fast, insisting that “Castro needs a final push.” But Clinton now has shifted the focus away from

the volatile Straits of Florida to political Washington—with its capacity to erode the best-laid plans of the powerful.

Helms, a 73-year-old curmudgeon from North Carolina, wields power as a 22-year Senate veteran, a magic Republican fund-raiser and—although his record is almost empty of foreign travel—chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. His bill is supported by Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, front-runner in the Republican campaign to unseat Clinton in next year’s presidential election. Helms is immune to the outcries from Ottawa, Europe and elsewhere over his plan to punish countries, companies and people who deal with Castro’s Cuba by barring both their goods and their persons from the United States. ‘We will make adjustments,” said a Helms spokesman last week, “but the central philosophical tenet of this bill remains: foreign businessmen are going to have to make choices—the United States or Cuba.”

The bill would bar U.S. imports of sugar or sugared products from any country that buys Cuban sugar, as Canada does. It would deny entry into the United States and prohibit U.S. financial transactions to any person or company who buys, sells or rents state-confiscated Cuban property. That, some critics say, could apply to a tourist renting Cuban shelter abandoned by an exile and taken over by the state. The Helms

bill, presented in the Senate on Feb. 9 and awaiting committee study, is backed up by parallel legislation in the House of Representatives. The House measure is the product of Helms think-alike Dan Burton, 56, a Republican from suburban Indianapolis. A staunch supporter is Democrat Robert Torricelli, 43, whose eastern New Jersey region includes a substantial community of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.

Torricelli authored a 1992 sanctions law that extends prohibitions against dealing with Cuba to foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms. During subcommittee hearings in March on the Burton bill, Torricelli responded to Canada’s protests over the proposed legislation’s extraterritorial reach by saying that, “I think the United States has the right to expect Canada to be somewhat deferential.” Clinton himself was openly deferential to the Torricelli measure three years ago. Then, campaigning for the De mocratic presidential nomination, Clinton proclaimed his support for Torricelli’s efforts during a visit to Miami, the heart of a million-strong Hispanic community, largely Cuban by origin or descent.

_ ¡my’ Canadian exports to Cuba: 1993 $145.3 million 1994 $114.7 million Canadian imports from Cuba: 1993 $171.5 million 1994 $194.4 million

SOURCE: DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE

For that, by one estimate, he collected close to $400,000 in funding. But that community— tightly organized, vocal, moneyed and influential beyond its numbers—turned sharply against the Clinton administration’s new migration agreement.

Cuban-American groups go along with the agreement’s escape valves for restive Cubans on the island of 11 million people. Cuba has a growing army of unemployed citizens that is expected to expand by up to 200,000 under austerity layoffs of state employees rumored to be imminent. Aso posing a threat of “civil disturbance” and “some violence probability,” according to U.S. military reports, are almost 22,000 would-be refugees camped in Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in southern Cuba since they were picked up in the waters off Florida last summer. The U.S. plan is to accept 20,000 legally processed immigrants a year. First in line for Florida: the Guantánamo refugees, at a rate of about 500 a month.

What angered Cuban-American groups is a policy shift whereby Cubans fleeing their country will no longer be considered refugees but illegal immigrants to be sent back home. Those returned to Cuba, said U.S. officials, will be permitted to apply at a U.S. office in Havana for legal entry—although the waiting list exceeds 100,000. Declared Jorge Mas Canosa, head of the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation: ‘To destroy in secret negotiations with Cuba the institution

of political asylum is totally unacceptable.”

But in risking the support of at least the older generation of Cuban-Americans, Clinton stands to gain from powerful anti-immigrant sentiment in Florida and, as well, in Texas and California—the state where voters last fall approved a proposition to cancel public services for illegal immigrants. Those three states swing over 40 per cent of the electoral votes needed to win a presidential election.

And by cutting the Cuban-Americans out of the policy-making loop—until the TarnoffAarcón deal they were routinely consulted— Clinton removes a barrier to pursuing a gradual restoration of normal relations with Cuba. The policy pushed by Mas Canosa, Helms and their allies is to exert an economic squeeze that will topple the 68-year-old Castro after 36 years in power. “Whether Castro leaves Cuba in a vertical or horizontal position is up to him and the Cuban people,” says Helms. “But he must and will leave Cuba.”

The current question is whether the indecisive Clinton will seize the opening of the successful Tamoff-Aarcón encounter—the highest-ranking U.S.-Cuba exchange in 15 years (Aarcón, a veteran diplomat, is chairman of the Cuban National Assembly). That is a doubtful prospect among some close observers of the Cuba file. Gillian Gunn, an associate at Georgetown University’s Latin American Studies Center in Washington, says that the Toronto agreement smacks of “short-term crisis prevention measures.” Still, she adds, the result may encourage Clinton to take what he himself calls “calibrated steps” towards responding to Cuban reforms by relaxing sanctions first imposed 33 years ago.

The Cuba sanctions policy, widely criticized in other countries as a relic of the Cold War, is an increasingly lonely one for Washington. Canada and other industrialized nations are capitalizing in Cuba, at U.S. expense, on trade, investment joint ventures and tourism.

But public and private advice that the Cold War is over, and that Marxist Castro’s Soviet patron is gone, collide against a history of possessive American feelings about Cuba. Emanating from long memories, such as Helms’s, there is a tone of burning resentment that Castro declared independence from the United States in 1959 just as Cuban hero José Marti did from Spain in 1895. And Marti’s goal was

_ achieved with American help.

The successful U.S. intervention against Spain is the part of that history further to the front of such memories than the sequel. After Spain’s de feat, U.S. control of Cuban financial and foreign policies lasted 36 years. And after that, its economy was largely in American hands until Castro took Havana on Jan. 1, 1959. American control of Guantánamo Bay is one price that Cuba is still paying for U.S. aid against Spain.

The possessive streak spans two centuries. “It is scarcely possible,” wrote John Quincy Adams, U.S. president in the 1820s, “to resist the conviction that the annexation of Cuba to our federal republic will be indispensable to the continuance and integrity of the union itself.”

The present atmosphere in Washington, with the clamor in Congress for economic war, is an echo of the mood exactly a century ago. As Marti raised his insurrection in 1895, calls to arms resounded in the U.S. media and in Congress. “It is time that someone woke up and realized the necessity of annexing some property,” declared one senator.

President Grover Cleveland resisted the pressure, lamenting “an epidemic of insanity.” His successor in 1897, William McKinley, held out against what he termed “jingo nonsense” for a year before yielding to war. For Bill Clinton—pressed by Helms and his supporters to tighten the dollar embargo on Castro’s Cuba, and urged by his foreign allies to resist or suffer commercial retaliation—it is a similarly tearing time. □