While the United States should view Cuban leader Fidel Castro with a wary eye, the government should initiate negotiations with him, a former Cuban government official who defected to this country told 60 people at the Institute of Politics Forum earlier this week.
"If there is good will on both sides, this is the time to show it," said Jose Luis Llovio-Menendez, former chief adviser to Cuba's Finance Ministry and the current Shepardson fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Llovio-Menendez gained political asylum in the U.S. in October, 1984. He said he spent 16 years in Cuba plotting his escape and pretending he embraced Communist beliefs, and defected "because I am a revolutionary. I am not a Communist."
The former official said that the last seven American presidents have undertaken alternately liberal and hard-line approaches in their dealings with Castro and both routes have proven unsuccessful.
Hard-line tactics, which he said included alienating Cuba from the world marketplace and the use of force, have only further entrenched Castro's control of the island nation, said Llovio-Menedez.
"Far from producing any changes in Fidel's behavior, the conservatives' hard-line has actually helped consolidate his power. As ever, Fidel feels most comfortable playing David to the Norteamericanos Goliath," he said.
The author of The Hidden Life of a Revolutionary also criticized the "liberal" approach to handling Castro for its naivete. He pointed to the U.S.government's pleasure when Castro signed an accordon fishing in the Strait of Florida as an exampleof that naivete.
"As ever, State Department officialsinterpreted Fidel's signing of an insignificantagreement as an indication of his good faith, eventhough it had no bearing on either his foreign ordomestic policy," said Llovio-Menendez.
During his speech, the former adviser refutedwhat he called "conventional political wisdom inthe United States" that Cuba "can't continue tochart a domestic course in opposition to theSoviet Union."
He dismissed this line of reasoning, arguingthat there are fundamental differences between thetwo nations. "The Soviets will continue to hateCuba. They cannot do otherwise," he said.
Saying that he had an "intimate knowledge ofFidel's foreign policy maneuvers," Llovio-Menendezoffered a three-step approach to better relations:"talks, negotiations and normalization."
The normalization of American relations withCuba would allow for Castro's offical entranceinto the international political arena. Castrowould gain access to technology, banking, andtourism would boom, he said.
"He could not be officially ignored anymore,"he said