South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
There are few governments on the planet that the Bush administration dislikes more than Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba. Yet, it seems like sometimes U.S. policy helps the Communist government more than it undermines it.
For example, one would think the best way to prod a much-needed transition to democracy would be to increase and spread U.S. influence on the island. So why would the Bush administration implement policies that curtail America’s sway, including limits on money sent and visits by Cuban-Americans?
Now there’s another perplexing twist in Washington’s Cuba diplomacy. The Treasury Department has warned a Cuban exile activist living in Havana that he might be violating the embargo by ignoring restrictions on travel to the island. Presumably, he could face penalties.
The individual in question is Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, a rebelde who fought alongside Castro during the 1950s revolution. After Castro turned to the Soviet Union and established a Marxist state, Gutierrez-Menoyo broke ranks with the maximo leader and led his own pro-democracy rebellion. He was captured and spent 22 years in jail for his “betrayal.”
He was released in 1987 and moved to Miami, where he later founded an organization that seeks peaceful reform in Cuba. Insisting that change had to come from within the island, he “reverse defected” two years ago during a trip to Cuba—meaning he refused to leave.
Gutierrez-Menoyo’s tactics are controversial. Some U.S. exiles believe he has sold out, others see him as a courageous man of principle. One can agree with him or not. That’s politics.
The larger question is whether the United States should employ a heavy-handed approach toward people who seek to bring change to Cuba’s government and institutions. Why is the U.S. government dissuading individuals from spreading good will toward America and fostering a debate in Cuba about reform and openness?
President Bush has correctly said U.S. security depends on efforts to bring the light of freedom to oppressed countries, and he has singled out Cuba as one place that is stuck in the political Dark Ages. So why is the administration preventing broader contacts between Americans and Cubans, and perhaps infringing on the right of Americans to travel freely in the process? Maybe it’s time for a court challenge.
America’s strength lies in its ideals and people. Unfortunately, the Bush administration doesn’t seem to trust its countrymen to serve as ambassadors abroad. This “government knows best” attitude bolsters the foe in Havana, rather than weakening Castro’s grip on the island.