Clinton stumbles vs. Castro

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Washington -- WHEN FIDEL Castro unleashed tens of thousands of desperate Cubans against the United States last August, trying his best to humiliate President Clinton, one would have thought that the White House might have been a bit peeved.

This was, after all, vintage Fidel Castro. From the "sale" of captured fighters at the Bay of Pigs to the United States for medicines and tractors in 1961, to the Mariel forced "exodus" of 120,000 Cubans in 1980, the Cuban president has cynically used his people as raw power against the hated americanos, whenever he wanted to make a point.

Yet far from considering Fidel's moves as presumptuous, the Clinton administration has given in to Mr. Castro on every level, apparently hoping to reform the bearded one. The ostensible idea is that, step by step, the Cubans will be forced to democratize and even (a favorite phrase) "rejoin the family of nations," and we will then respond to each reciprocal move. Good luck.

Instead, what is developing day after day in crowded and desperate Guantanamo is a situation that most Americans would surely be deeply ashamed of, if they only knew.

In the American naval base on Cuban soil, some 24,000 Cubans languish in tents in the blazing sun. The White House has allowed only a few doctors to go from Miami to minister to them and, instead, all of its efforts are designed to send them home, where most of them would simply be at Mr.Castro's mercy.

Even worse, in still another of the administration's curious "peace offensives," officials have this fall quietly cut back Radio Marti broadcasts to Cuba from 100 kilowatts of power, which can reach the entire island, to 50, which Fidel Castro can easily jam.

Spokesmen for Cuban freedom, such as former Cuban Air Force Gen. Rafael del Pino, the island's highest ranking military defector, have been stopped from speaking on Radio Marti, and a CIA radio outlet, "Radio Caiman" from Costa Rica, has now been closed. Count up still more concessions to Mr. Castro! In short, this means that the two most direct voices to the Cuban military, which is the only hope for change on the island, have been given away to Mr. Castro -- and for what?

Or, as Santiago Aroca, the Spanish journalist who is a specialist on Cuba, wrote in two definitive recent pieces in El Nuevo Herald of Miami on Washington's recent negotiations with Mr. Castro: "Meanwhile, in Havana, he has unleashed a new wave of repression to intimidate the opposition, so that dissidents will leave in the 'package' of 20,000 visas conceded by the United States [during the fall negotiations].

"And, why should Fidel Castro even bother now to converse with the exiles? Fidel Castro discovered in September, in New York, that the United States could give a great deal in exchange for almost nothing."

In my biography of Castro, "Guerrilla Prince," I traced how, since the 1970s, he had formed Pavlovian, mind-control "teams" of psychologists and sociologists to monitor the mood on the streets. When these teams assessed a period of explosive tension, Fidel would open the floodgates in some manner and let enough people go to quell the potential flood.

Now, in Guantanamo, the United States is apparently doing much the same thing. Lawyers in Miami have contended in court that American military "psy-war" teams in Guantanamo are endlessly propagandizing the Cubans with the idea that the only thing they can do is go back to Cuba. (Guantanamo officials admit the psychological warfare teams are there, but say they are only there to give the Cuban refugees "information.")

Such psychological operations teams are often extremely valuable, and they are virtually always employed to demoralize the enemy. But, are the poor, miserable Cuban refugees in Guantanamo, who risked everything to leave, now America's enemy? Wasn't someone else recently our enemy?

One can glimpse what indeed did happen in those meetings between Clinton officials and Cubans in September in New York. The Clinton administration gave away the shop, even to the point of giving Havana the right to approve any changes in American immigration procedure vis-a-vis Cuba and Cubans!

This should not perhaps surprise anyone, for this entire mode of behavior is really the twin brother of Clinton policy regarding North Korea, Haiti and even Russia. See if you can't win them over. See if they aren't really nice guys underneath those hard surfaces. Fidel must be ready to make peace. Kim Jong Il? We'll only give him 10 years.

The problem with this way of thinking, which permeates an administration that believes there is no evil in the world and that anything is better than conflict or fighting, is that it sells out the historical principles that have underlined the acts and policies of this country.

Atencion, Fidel -- you too, Kim Jong -- want to join the Rotary?

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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