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Island of Pity


By the time it gets its foreign policy act together, which may be some time, the Clinton administration is going to have to reconsider Cuba. It won't be on the front burner, because other places are in crisis and smack the administration in the face. Cuba just festers. Meanwhile, the Cuba policy is slowly changing by inertia.

What's happened is that the desertion of Cuba by the former Soviet Union has left the Communist island regime friendless and powerless and poorer by the minute. So powerless, it is ceasing to scare people. So friendless, it is losing enemies. Admiration of the Castro regime has vanished, while fear and hatred of it are turning to pity.

The Soviet collapse made the 31-year U.S. economic warfare against Castro's Cuba appear a success, which it never was before. Cuba is swapping buses for bicycles. The lights are going out. Malnutrition and vitamin deficiency are rampant. Cuban health authorities have just reported an unexplained nervous disorder affecting 26,000 people so far, with 19,000 of them losing vision, and spreading. The regime is asking for foreign medical help.

In March, Fidel asked for help, as he never had before, for the hurricane that battered his island -- the same storm that paralyzed Baltimore and the U.S. East Coast with a late blizzard. He is thought to have overstated the damage, because many of the problems predated the storm. Begging is a new posture for the ruler who used only to brag and threaten his neighbors. Now dissident groups on the island are advocating an end of the U.S. trade embargo, as they never have before.

But the real change -- the true pity -- is in the mood of the Cuban emigre community in Florida, the dominant parts of which have been intransigent in the extreme and the real obstacle to any moderation contemplated in Washington. Now they see their kinfolk starving, jobless and without medicine. The real secret of the April flotilla of humanitarian aid to Cuba by American religious and other opponents of the U.S. embargo is that the Florida Cubans did not object, as they always had to such gestures in the past. Now they are starting to send their own aid.

Anti-Castro emigres always worried before that aid would help Castro and not the people. Now they consider Castro beyond help and the people desperately needing it. In due course, the Clinton administration is going to catch up to a change in policy it probably would approve of -- and has more or less already occurred in the private aid sector.

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