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Misdirection on Cuba

SENATOR JOHN Kerry is advocating a policy toward Cuba's internal politics that is realistic in the short term. The next US president, however, needs to support a democratic opposition on the island to discourage the long continuance of dictatorship.

In a statement June 5, Kerry said he supported the US economic embargo of Cuba but opposed the tougher rules against travel and financial transfers to Cubans by their relatives in the United States, which take effect June 30. Kerry is wrong on the embargo, which has done nothing to liberalize the regime in 43 years.

But he is right to oppose the travel restrictions. In the statement, he said, " . . . We should promote the interchange of ideas that will begin now to lay the foundation for economic prosperity and an independent civil society that I believe are so crucial to peace and democracy." Quickening the flow of dollars into the country might whet Cuban leaders' appetite for more, which would be best obtained by loosening the economy, though probably not while Castro lives.

Contact with foreigners, however, will not by itself end the dictatorship. Vietnam and China revamped their economies without disturbing the alliances between army and Communist Party that sustain both regimes.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Kerry caused a controversy by seeming to slight the Varela Project, which tries to promote democracy by using the legal mechanisms of the state. Oswaldo Paya, its leader, gathered 11,000 signatures to present a petition to the national assembly seeking change.

". . . It has brought down the hammer in a way that I think wound up being counterproductive," Kerry said. Castro struck back hard against the Varela Project last year, leaving Paya alone but arresting many supporters.

After the controversy broke, Kerry wrote an article explicitly endorsing the Varela Project. Jamie Rubin, one of his foreign policy advisers, said this week by telephone that the senator was most concerned that fervid US support fostered a perception that dissidents were tools of Washington.

Obvious backing from the United States can be counterproductive, but the next administration should advance democracy in subtler ways, encouraging Europeans, Latin Americans, and Canadians to come to the dissidents' defense.

When Castro leaves power, his brother Raul, the army commander, will be next in line. The military already controls the tourist industry and will have every incentive to keep letting foreigners in. The chief goal of US policy makers should be to make sure they do not continue to crowd out the democratic yearnings of the Cuban people. 

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