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To trade or not to trade?

International

Issue: "Fighting Potomac fever," Feb. 27, 1999

Since the end of the Cold War, a split has developed within the political right in the United States over this country's decades-old trade embargo against Cuba.

Embargo supporters argue that Fidel Castro's brutal communist government would benefit from any relaxation of trade restrictions and that ending the embargo would send the wrong signal about U.S. values. Georges Fauriol, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, contends that "a moral content in U.S.-Cuba policy cannot be abandoned simply because the Cold War has ended." He worries that ending sanctions would be interpreted as the United States admitting "responsibility for misery in Cuba when the prime culprit is Castro."

But a growing number of conservatives believe the embargo has backfired, allowing the Cuban government to stir up anti-Yankee sentiment and divert attention from its own shortcomings. The embargo "is a hideous scapegoat that Castro drags out to explain Cuba's dismal economy and the repression that are almost entirely the consequences of his own policies," writes the Hoover Institution's William Ratliff. "Castro knows that bombing Havana with a million Big Macs-U.S. products, citizens, and ideas-would be far more destructive to his system than Washington/ Miami's futile effort to block Cuba's international ties."

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Some opponents of the embargo suspect that the Cuban dictator may have deliberately provoked the United States into maintaining what he calls "the blockade" of Cuba by attacking two planes flown by Cuban-Americans in early 1996.

Meanwhile, U.S. policy is changing. Last month, the State Department loosened restrictions on flights to Cuba and other services, including direct mail service and humanitarian aid. The move met with agreement from Republicans in Congress, who say they want to continue the trade embargo against Castro's regime while increasing opportunities for people-to-people contact.

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