Fidel Castro, Cuba's bearded hero, who has outmaneuvered eight US presidents, now after 35 years in office may have finally pried open the door to better relations with the U.S. Last week, after measuring the political fall-out, President Clinton announced relaxation of some tough restrictions on U.S.-Cuba travel and will permit American news bureaus on that island. At the same time, however, the House passed HR 927 which would not only tighten the long-standing embargo, permit Cuban-Americans to sue foreign investors who assumed their pre-1959 holdings on the island, but also cut aid to countries providing goods and money to Cuba. Our President is not really crossing political swords with crusty old Jesse Helms, who is sponsoring tighter restrictions in the Senate, since Clinton also promises a tighter embargo. Those wealthy Cuban-Americans who profited under Batista and fled Cuba to Florida in 1959 still control that state's vital electoral votes and lobby with their millions for continued economic persecution of Castro and his people. Both the UN and OAS have more than once voted almost unanimously against Washington for supporting one of the longest embargos in history.
Fidel, who appears almost daily on Cuban TV, still evokes tremendous loyalty from his people. Thirty some years ago he left a lucrative law practice in Havana to pick up a gun and rescue Cuba from years of brutal repression and poverty under Batista's U.S.-supported regime. Fidel's programs of life-long health care, free and universal education, free housing and generous social security payments (which suffered restrictions after the loss of Soviet support in 1993) have always been threatened by U.S. economic repression. This persecution began with Eisenhower in the 1960s, increased under Kennedy (who first authorized Castro's CIA assassination), and was intensified by Bush. The Cuban people, however, having watched Bush's brutal invasion of Panama, have since been fearful the U.S. may attempt to remove Castro militarily.
Our State Department and subservient media perpetually belittle any effort Castro makes to improve the condition of his people. This July, NBC News unleashed a diatribe against Fidel for daring to build an atomic plant to meet his people's future energy needs, oil having gotten expensive with the U.S. embargo in place. The TV commentators rolled out every conceivable reason Fidel shouldn't have his reactor: ill-trained technicians, possible "shoddy construction," the danger to the U.S. of a meltdown, etc. As a footnote, NBC did note Cuba's atomic technicians had thrice been denied the visas necessary to attend those International Conferences on nuclear update and safety held on our shores.
A more recent nasty little poke from the New York Times (Oct. 16) was entitled "Patients pay high price in Cuba's War on AIDS." However, with a careful reading of the report, one learns from the quoted World Health Organization that Cuba has by far the fewest cases of HIV infection per population of any of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. Fidel, recognizing early-on that AIDS is a fatal disease, initiated the most extensive HIV screening program in the world (17 million tests on his 11 million Cubans since 1986) and ordered the infected ones into sanitarium isolation.
Today, after intense training and indoctrination in prevention, patients who prove personally reliable may move back home while others "may leave the sanitaria unchaperoned for days at a time." (NY Times) This in contrast to the U.S. where HIV patients roam at will and infections are on the increase. A letter from a Washington physician in the NY Times, Oct. 16, notes: "New York State is so medically anachronistic that it still refuses to list human immuno-deficiency virus as a sexually-transmitted disease for fear of triggering mandatory notification and contact tracing."
Castro's "state socialism," while it suffers under U.S.'s cruel and mean-spirited actions, still takes better care of its embargo-impoverished people than does Washington, where over 40 million of our people are without adequate medical care.
Fidel, still intensely loyal to his socialist ideals, now welcomes foreign investment and even encourages small private Cuban businesses. Cuba has recently allowed nearly 200 joint-enterprises with foreign countries (Italy, Germany, Holland, Britain, Canada) and enjoys an increasingly-active tourist business ($466 million in 1993). However, Washington politics, characteristically out of touch with the times, still locks out U.S. companies and investments while the rest of the world is embracing this tough, old, bearded crusader.