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Posted July 31, 2003 by publisher in US Embargo

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Tom Lyons | HeraldTribune.com | Opinion

There are plenty of sensible possibilities for improving this nation’s policies toward Cuba. But so what?

All are irrelevant during a presidential campaign. End the embargo and open up trade?

Send lots of students and tourists and business people?

Sell capitalism the way we have in the communist nations of Eastern Europe and Asia.

Stop trying to isolate Cuba, since that hasn’t helped a bit during the 44 years Fidel Castro has enjoyed as a communist dictator 90 miles from Key West?

Good ideas, but don’t bring them up. Suggesting sensible stuff about Cuba can’t help anybody become president of the United States. Clearly, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman gets that.

Not that Lieberman is afraid to criticize President George W. Bush’s Cuba policies, which are virtually identical to Bill Clinton’s. Heck no.

But Lieberman’s criticism is focused carefully and precisely on the one part of the policy that makes sense.

No matter. Lieberman’s ploy is a potential vote getter that could play to Cuban-Americans, and especially to those who think more with heart than brain when Castro is involved. And in Florida, which can go Republican or Democrat, and where the last presidential election was infamously close, Cuban-American votes could decide who wins the White House.

So Lieberman is opting for the grandstanding crowd pleaser: His message: Bush is horribly wrong to send 12 Cubans back to Cuba to face the unfair and harsh justice system there, even though they stole a boat to make their way to Florida.

Few Cuban-Americans can fail to agree, of course, and some were already adamantly protesting the move. And many of us non-Cuban voters also feel similar sympathies for Cubans who take chances to get to the United States. Sending people back seems awful.

But it is necessary. Bush is right.

The reason those Cubans couldn’t just come here legally had little to do with Fidel Castro. It was us. The United States wouldn’t let them. We severely limit immigration from Cuba.

We do forgive some who sneak in, but there are rules about that, and this nation has rightly promised not to reward those who get here the way those men did.

They didn’t just steal a boat. Thousands have done that, and good for them, though many of them are also sent back.

But the dozen people Bush is sending back held three people at gunpoint. They hijacked their way here. That’s a serious crime in any nation, this one very much included.

And the deal with Cuba says those returned will face no more than 10 years in prison. Hijacking people here might well get you far worse.

Lots of Haitians try to come here illegally, too, and they also take big chances, for similar reasons. Most Haitians are sent right back to their own impoverished and corrupt police state. And if they got here by pointing a gun at someone to hijack a ride, there would be no doubt about it.

But, still, we could start accepting Cubans who use guns and threats of violence to hijack their way here, as Lieberman suggests.

It would be kind of odd, though, given that we routinely refuse so many nice folks in Cuba when they ask so politely if they can come.

But President Lieberman’s message to Cubans would then be clear: Point a gun at someone and hijack your way here and you are our kind of guy, so give it a try.

Just the inane vote-seeking tweak our Cuba policy needs to make it consistently irrational in every possible way.

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