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The Issue of Cuba


The little island of Cuba has again usurped the front pages. The House has approved a "fight if we must" policy; the Secretary of State has asked uncomprehending and frankly amused allies to end the shipping of possibly strategic goods to Castro's government; the entire Administration has been speaking of naval blockade and whispering of invasion. They recognize, if dimly, that the circumstances leading to and the consequences following from the diplomatic break with Cuba nearly two years ago have led almost inevitably to the current relations between the two countries. They realize also that the position of the U.S. is unsatisfactory.

What they do not appear to realize is that it is extremely dangerous, and that the danger does not stem from the Soviet short-range weapons on the island or even from the Soviet fishing port. It seems from the dramatic ideological effect the name of Cuba manages to produce on our country and on the rest of Latin America.

The U.S. Cuba policy has accomplished nothing less than to encourage the people of this country to accept--almost to trust in--an eventual invasion of the island, so forcing politicians to make "hard" or "soft" attitudes toward Castro an enormously significant political issue. In an election year, when the powers that be are touchy and the powers that would like to be measure fierce accusations of columny and impotence lightly, the U.S. is alarmingly susceptible to warlike recommendations. The present temper of the Congress and of the press holds the very real capacity to bully the Administration into a stupidly aggressive action that would likely lead to thermonuclear war.

This missing sense of perspective has led Latin America to make of Cuba a serious issue as well. The mad preoccupation with the Socialist island, evident at the second Punta del Este conference, has speeded the polarization of Latin American political opinion and increased its ideological content. Simultaneously, it has increased the appeal of demagoguery on the left and the inclinations toward military government to restore order on the right.

Why the Policy?

Obviously, the Administration would have ditched such a policy long ago if it supposed there was nothing to gain by it. Merely upsetting Castro at the cost of helping to impoverish the Cuban people is a sour sort of accomplishment. What the State Department is presumably trying to do is to make of Cuba a laboratory model to show Latin America that a socialist economy cannot decently survive. The trouble is that everybody knows that the U.S. has so restricted the possibility of development on the island--in fact has so narrowly defined the terms of the experiment--that the experiment is meaningless. Nobody is impressed.

Therefore, if Latin America has not absorbed the artificial economics lesson that the faltering development of Cuba is intended to teach, our policy of isolation looks like nothing more than blackmail. Blackmail in this case is not just diplomatically offensive; it is ineffective. Its usefulness depends on the failure of Cuba, and Cuba will not fail; the island will not crumble and fall into the sea, and so long as the U.S. has some control over its people's hunger, it will continue to be an issue. It will widen the splits between left and right in the hemisphere to the extent where neither we nor the other Alliance countries can administer the apolitical aid program we want. Above all, it will again and again demand military action from the U.S. with all the fire that invasion and retaliation can involve.

An irrational policy sustained only by the illusory hope of impossible advantage has kept the Kennedy Administration waiting interminably for more and more signs of approval from the O.A.S. while Congressmen jump and gesture excitedly at their benches. It is time to rationalize our relations with Cuba, and the only immediately sensible method of doing so is to ask for resumption of diplomatic relations.

It is crucial to remember that the policy proposed here has nothing to do with the wrongs Cuba has done us, or the wrongs we have done Cuba. What matters is averting war and the failure of the Alliance at a time when both seem likely.

Some Objections

There is no doubt that this will be called appeasement, but it is no more so than the aid the U.S. used to give Poland and Yugoslavia. The two cases are parallel in that the only positive gain from either is ephemeral--the hope of bringing sections of the country under the Western sphere of influence. It is argued here that the most to be won from rapprochement is negative--helping to strip the issue of its ideological feathers.

One may well raise another and more legitimate objection: the claim that renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba is politically impossible in this country; Americans simply will not accept it. Yet it ought to be pointed out that the people have never heard a reasonable and unemotional presentation of the problem. It is too easy to insist that everybody wants a Cuban invasion after everybody has listened to endless denunciations of Cuban Communism and Soviet aggression.

So far, by disassociating himself from the more virulent types of rhetoric (such as that of Senators Clark and Magnuson) and by warning against too rash and hasty talk, the President has not entirely closed the way to rapprochement. He has shown before that he is capable of more than phonographic reiterations of his country's determination to fight. The chance remains for him to try to show--in a television address--that the stakes of the Cuban issue are war itself, too important to be sacrificed to an essentially pettish desire for revenge and even to the U.S.' understandable distaste for Castro's regime.

The objectives of rapprochement, to repeat, are essentially to diminish the ideological connotations of Castro's Cuba, to make it less of an issue. They are to put an end to an experiment in economic theory that can scarcely prove anything even to ourselves, and that, since it can never succeed, continues to throw our people and our politicians into a state of tense frustration empty of reasonableness, respect for facts, or sense of proportion.

Perhaps the ideological dust and heat generated by this little island will long outlive any effort at rapprochements; perhaps the most violently committed elements of political life and the press will never forgive this Administration a moment of sanity in the madhouse they have helped create. But until the trigger is pulled, there is still hope for restraint.

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