Same old, same old

The Baltimore Sun

When President Bush suggests, as he did yesterday, that the Cuban people should rise up against their despotic leader, he conveniently ignores the fact that U.S. policy toward Cuba has done little to spur a revolt. Decades of isolation - and his administration's toughening of the policy - haven't lessened Fidel Castro's hold on power or diminished the influence of his brother Raul, now serving as the de facto president since Mr. Castro took ill a year ago.

Indeed, the only Cubans who have benefited from U.S. policy are the thousands of refugees who are given a free pass to live here.

Mr. Bush's speech at the State Department was aimed at personalizing the plight of the Cuban people, and it was his first public response to the transition of power under way there. But it was no more than the same tough talk in support of the economic embargo against Havana, promotion of democracy efforts in the country, and a pitch to the international community to stand with the U.S. against the Castro regime.

For all his bluster, there is little he has done - and little he can do - to advance democracy, promote regime change or improve the daily lives of Cubans who remain on the island. (And the reality is that despite U.S. support for dissident groups in Cuba, democracy remains a distant ideal there.)

All of that would require an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, which Mr. Bush is not about to attempt. And without a drastic change, the succession of Mr. Castro's brother seems inevitable, which leaves little hope for reform and even less for revolution, although Mr. Bush's attempt to include Cuba's military and police in a new Cuba does show that the administration can learn from its mistakes.

Mr. Bush's proposal to establish a "Freedom Fund for Cuba," a vehicle to rebuild the country's failing infrastructure with dollars from the U.S. and international community, was appealing. But it, too, is tied to a democratic transition, which wrongly assumes Mr. Castro's successor would move in that direction on his own, just to receive the funds.

A new administration, whether Democratic or Republican, should take up the idea and use it as an entree to direct talks. The next White House can't continue to ignore the leadership in Havana, even if the votes of Cuban-Americans depend on just such a myopic course.

To simply tweak the present policy would be a mistake for the United States and its interests in the region - and an affront to the Cuban people.

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