Havana.-- While the Clinton administration grapples with foreign policy challenges in ex-Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Russia, a policy shift is quietly under way in a country much closer to home, and much more susceptible to the passions of the Washington political establishment -- Cuba.
This shift is apparent in a series of recent reports issued by virtually every important policy planning center and think tank "inside the Beltway" -- from the Rand Corporation to Inter-American Dialogue.
For all the diversity expressed in their conclusions, these reports reflect a remarkable new consensus: not only is Castro's "Final Hour" -- much anticipated in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet bloc -- not yet at hand; more significant, the Cuban revolution retains important political reserves, social support and potential for economic recovery, despite the deep and palpable crisis jolting the Caribbean island nation.
For this reason, few analysts predict that President Clinton will undertake any major initiatives toward Cuba during the first two years of his four-year term. Nonetheless, the operational assumption in Washington is that the Cuban revolution can, and will, be undermined eventually, and that in the 1990s Washington stands a better chance than ever of reimposing its historic hegemony over the island.
The underlying strategy to accomplish this goal -- much like the "Nicaraguan model" implemented by the Bush administration between 1989 and 1990 -- involves shifting policy from hard-line external destabilization to more sophisticated internal political intervention. The rough contours of such a model have already begun to be applied toward Cuba.
Anti-communism and national security have been discarded in favor of "promotion of democracy."
Aggressive destabilization from without is changing to political penetration from within.
The nucleus of anti-Castro opposition forces will be transferred from Miami to Cuba in order to ensure that the opposition vTC campaign becomes headquartered inside the country.
This also means transferring U.S. support from the ultra-right Cuban opposition groups based in Miami -- especially Jorge Mas Canosa's Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and the CIA-linked paramilitary groups -- to opposition sectors considered moderate and centrist, and even leftist by U.S. standards.
Washington has already begun to promote a national opposition network inside Cuba, backed by a broad international support network and currently centered around several human rights groups. But the architects of the new political intervention would like it to include political parties, trade unions, communications media, youth and women's groups and civic associations. U.S. efforts would strive to provide this network with a political action capacity and a public projection among the Cuban population.
The leadership of such a network would see an array of groups coming together under a common program. Its public discourse will be moderate, even nationalist; it will call not for the overthrow of the Castro government but for dialogue, a political opening, and peaceful change. It will emphasize the current economic hardships and the aspirations of Cuba's post-1959 youth generation.
The economic embargo against Cuba will remain an essential ingredient of overall policy. The U.S. will seek to undermine Cuba's efforts at reinsertion into the world economy and penetration of capitalist markets on the basis of biotechnology, tourism and agro-export production. This is the intent behind initiatives by U.S. legislators to "internationalize" the embargo through the United Nations.
The principal obstacle to the emerging U.S. strategy is the Cuban government's refusal to allow groups tied to the U.S. to operate legally on the island. One scenario would be negotiations between the Clinton administration and Havana to lift elements of the embargo in exchange for the free operation of U.S.-supported opposition groups on the island.
Since it is aimed at converting economic crisis into social discontent and then giving that discontent political expression, U.S. policy hinges on assuring the continuity of Cuba's economic crisis and avoiding any possibility of recovery. Indeed, the underlying strategy is to convert economic crisis into social discontent and then to give political expression to that discontent.
There is no question that the current economic crisis is acute and that social discontent is growing. Indeed, if the population were to turn against the revolution, it would not be the result of political opposition but out of simple economic desperation.
It is also true that in sharp contrast to most Third World capital cities, no homeless people wander Havana streets, there are no shantytowns, and there are no diseased children scrounging for food morsels.
Were the economy to recover, Washington policy makers would have to face an entirely different set of options -- as yet
William I. Robinson is a news analyst with the Latin America Data Base at the University of New Mexico. He wrote this column for Pacific News Service. Barry Rascovar, whose column usually appears on this page, is on vacation.