Friday, September 09, 2005

Cuba Wants to Help and We Should Let It

You know how sometimes next door neighbors just can’t seem to get along? Sometimes it’s a spat over a property line or because the dogs bark at night or maybe one neighbor’s tree sheds its leaves in the other one’s yard.

Sometimes a dispute can go on for years. Sometimes, like with the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys, the incident that started the feud isn’t even remembered.

It’s too bad, because a simple, unimportant incident that has blown up to large proportions might be preventing close neighbors from becoming best friends.

Well, it’s not only households that sometimes get into feuds over picayune matters. Occasionally, two governments embroil themselves in bitter disputes that never lead to war, but that prevent what could have been a mutually beneficial relationship.

The U.S. and Cuba are such quarrelsome neighbors and have been for decades. It started in the late 1950s when Fidel Castro took over as leader of the small Caribbean country and set up a Communist government with the former Soviet Union as a good friend.

The quarrel almost escalated into a world-wide nuclear holocaust in October, 1962 when Castro decided he would allow the Soviets to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy wouldn’t hear of it, so he set up a “quarantine” (read, blockade) of Cuba.

It was a week and a half of nail biting and white knuckles as Kennedy and Soviet lead Khrushchev played a dangerous game of brinkmanship. But the Soviets finally backed down.

Shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, Kennedy and Castro began to engage in some back-door diplomacy that most likely would have led to normalized relationships between the two nations had Kennedy not been assassinated.

Unfortunately, Pres. Johnson chose not to pursue the diplomatic track with Cuba and the rest is history.

Today, Cuba and the U.S. remain uneasy neighbors. There’s no more saber rattling, but relationships are far from normal.

Last week, Castro offered to send 1,500 doctors to the region struck by Hurricane Katrina. The doctors have been brushing up on their English in anticipation of coming to the U.S. to help.

Unfortunately, Pres. Bush has chosen politics over humanity and has thus far refused Cuba’s offer of help. The administration said Castro might do better freeing his own country from its Communist form of government.

That might be true. Soviet-style Communism as a means of running a nation has failed worldwide, except for the three holdouts of North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. China is also Communist, but it also embraces capitalism.

This country has gone a long way to normalize relationships with former foe Vietnam. It is an active trading partner to China. Even when the Soviet Union was still in existence, Pres. Nixon pursued détente with the Soviets and Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush became good friends with its former leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in the late 1980s.

So why is it so tough to accept Castro’s ovations of friendship? He wanted to pursue warmer relations with us way back in the 1960s. We snubbed him then, and we’re still snubbing him.

Don’t get me wrong; Castro is a power-hungry dictator. We need to approach normalization with Cuba cautiously. But we should still pursue a good relationship. It’s in both countries’ best interests.

And we should start by accepting Castro’s offer to send doctors to help those who need it in New Orleans and Biloxi.

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