Castro reaches out to Americans Business view: Sanctions hurt U.S. interests; isolation helps keep island Communist.


THE INTERRELIGIOUS Foundation for Community Organizing, which hosted Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, will not overturn U.S. sanctions against Cuba. The business people who flocked to him in New York, however, and the 45 Fortune 500 firms that set up the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, might.

U.S. policy for too long has catered to a wealthy conservative fragment of the Cuban community in Florida, represented by the Cuban American National Foundation, demanding hostile and punitive policies. For the Clinton administration, this made little political sense because that group's stalwarts were going to bankroll Republicans in Florida no matter what. Their agenda is Cuban, not American. They do not speak for Cubans who want to help kin on the island, or for American business.

U.S. firms would welcome a rapprochement with Cuba as offering two sets of opportunities. Large consumer product exporting companies recognize the 11-million-strong Cuban market as goods-starved and biased toward American brands. The second group, particularly in tourism, sees Cuba as ripe for investment.

Both kinds of firms witness business that might have been theirs going to foreign rivals, especially in Mexico, Canada, Spain and France. Both see the U.S. sanctions against Cuba punishing themselves rather than Cuba.

But business also recognizes that Cuba is not all that attractive for risk-free investment now. The Castro government does not have the hang of being post-Communist. Legal rights of foreigners are not assured. Cubans' ability to pay for products is slight and the country's ability to pay off debt is nil. If U.S. sanctions ended tomorrow, American business would not rush in so much as stick a toe in.

Mr. Castro has survived U.S. attempts to huff and puff and blow him down for 37 years. He would find it harder surviving wide open contact, including tourism, student exchanges, investment and cultural exchange (especially baseball). The inherent pro-Americanism of the Cuban people would come to the fore.

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