The world does not lack deserving causes whose representatives beg the United States for aid that is always in short supply.
Africa sinks under the weight of poverty, war and AIDS. Argentina is desperate. Afghanistan must rebuild from the rubble.
With many eager hands outstretched, it is hard to imagine the U.S. government would try to give cash to people who do not want it. Yet that is what it insists on for Cuba's dissidents.
Cuba policy is an image in a funhouse mirror. The American trade and tourism embargo against Fidel Castro, an anachronism of the Cold War, continues while the rest of the world soaks up the sun and investment opportunities.
The Bush administration has peopled the foreign-policy apparatus with Cuban exiles and their sympathizers. The president pledges not to relent until Castro changes and repents. There is no chance of that.
The farm lobby and its bipartisan supporters on Capitol Hill are trying to remove the trade ban or at least loosen existing restrictions on limited agricultural exports. So far in the geo-political struggle between the farm states and South Florida, Miami is winning. It holds the keys to the White House and the Florida governor's mansion, after all.
This is a dreadful embarrassment. But not more so than the U.S. determination to finance Castro's political resistance, despite pleas from the resisters themselves that we close our wallets.
Former President Jimmy Carter, whose historic visit to Cuba prompted the current president to fly to Miami and to pledge that he would not let history move forward, met with 35 of Cuba's most prominent dissidents. They were unanimous, Carter reported, in asking the United States to stay out of their affairs. Aid from America, Carter said, would automatically stigmatize a dissident group as subservient to Washington. It creates another excuse for Castro to claim his opponents are puppets of the imperialists.
The dissidents behind the Varela project - the unprecedented and successful effort to gather 11,000 signatures and try to force democratic reforms - took pains to remain free of outside help. They had to convince fearful signatories they were not tools of Washington, or of Miami.
"The moment you accept money from the U.S. government, you are suspect," said Alfredo Duran, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion who now heads a moderate exile group in Miami. "You are no longer a nationalist."
Nonetheless, President George W. Bush just pledged to give even more aid to American groups that claim to help the Cubans. Bush intends to give $6 million in U.S. aid money in fiscal year 2003 to groups that support political freedoms in Cuba. That's up from $3.5 million in 2000, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. He likely will get bipartisan support: Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), whose presence on the 2000 Democratic ticket was intended in part to capture Florida, is among those promoting an expansion of aid.
The money doesn't go straight to Cuba, if it gets there at all. Instead of going directly to dissidents, it goes to New York and Washington and, most generously, to Miami.
Prominent among the receiving groups is the Center for a Free Cuba, a Miami-based group of conservative exiles headed by Frank Calzon. He was, you may recall, one of the truculent voices calling for Elian Gonzales to stay forever separated from his father.
Then there is the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based organization with close ties to the Bush administration. The institute was a supporter of opposition groups that staged an unsuccessful coup against the democratically elected president of Venezuela, a coup the White House seemed to welcome. Institute officials also served as back-channel contacts between the Venezuelan plotters and the Bush administration. Now they are to "build solidarity with Cuba's human rights activists."
This list could go on, but even in this funhouse the picture is clear enough. When it comes to Cuba, we do not strive for success. Only for domestic political gain and international shame.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.