More of the same

In a major address at the State Department, President Bush announced that U.S. policy toward Cuba will remain the same, only more so. Thus another opportunity for fresh thinking by the 10th American president to deal with Fidel Castro slides by.

The United States has had sanctions and an embargo on Cuba in place since 1961. Occasionally those restrictions are tweaked. But despite their proven ineffectiveness, they remain in place, more out of political inertia than any hope they might actually work.

Since the abortive Bay of Pigs operation and the Cuban missile crisis of the Kennedy administration, U.S. policy has basically been to outwait Fidel Castro in hopes that someone would overthrow him or the actuarial tables would take their course.

In beginning his speech, Bush said with unwitting irony, “Today, another president comes with hope to discuss a new era for the United States and Cuba.”

Castro is now 81 and his revolution is on course to celebrate its 50th anniversary about the time Bush leaves office in January 2009.

Many analysts believe that a more promising approach to Cuba would be to ease trade and travel restrictions on the grounds that the dictatorship and oppressive police state could not long survive sunshine, fresh air and its people’s glimpse of a better life. It would be worth a try since nothing else has worked, and it would deprive Castro of his scapegoat for his regime’s shortcomings.

Bush does not buy the scapegoat argument. He believes, and not without good reason, that the endemic failings of communism are at fault. Nor does he want to do anything that might enrich the party elite. And so we come full circle.

The president proposed a few more tweaks to the sanctions: licensing nongovernmental and faith-based groups to provide computers and Internet access to similar groups in Cuba; offering scholarships to the children of families that have suffered from the oppression of the regime; and a multibillion-dollar Freedom Fund for Cuba to rebuild the economy and fund the transition to democracy, whenever that time comes.

Meanwhile, Castro is ailing and has not been seen in public for over a year; however, power seems to have passed seamlessly to his 76-year-old brother, Raul.

One thing about the policy of out-waiting Castro: One day it’s bound to work. And one day it will work with Raul, too.