Cuba, Ike and Aid

Posted Sept. 11, 2008, at 7:17 p.m.

There’s a sad irony that the hurricane which ravaged the Caribbean island nation of Cuba in recent days was named Ike. Cuba has been shunned by its superpower neighbor, the United States, since shortly after Ike — President Dwight Eisenhower — left office in January 1961.

Early in President John F. Kennedy’s tenure in the White House, the U.S. backed an invasion of the island which failed to overthrow its Marxist dictator, Fidel Castro. The CIA proponents of the invasion, which had been planned under President Eisenhower, told President Kennedy that peasant farmers would quickly join the invaders to fight Castro’s forces. It seems that promise never gets old when a group is trying to sell a dubious war.

President Kennedy, as a young Democrat coming out of a bruising campaign against Red-baiting Vice President Richard Nixon, was worried that he didn’t look tough enough on communism and so backed the invasion against his better instincts. It was a mistake he vowed to not repeat, and some historians suggest President Kennedy would not have escalated the U.S. presence in Vietnam had he lived to serve another term.

Meanwhile, Cuba — just 90 miles off Key West — remains an isolated, impoverished anachronism. Several opportunities in recent years to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations were squandered. The untold destruction caused by Hurricane Ike offers yet another chance.

If the U.S. sent vast quantities of humanitarian aid and perhaps allowed volunteers to help Cubans rebuild their already poor housing, more could be accomplished toward swinging the country’s leaders away from seeing the U.S. as a threat, poised to invade again, and toward working with the U.S. as a trading partner.

Mr. Castro, in ill health and nearing the end of his life at age 82, will soon be replaced as Cuba’s leader. What seems to have driven him, particularly since the collapse of Cuba’s biggest benefactor, the Soviet Union, is proving that Marxism is a viable economic and political system. It’s a delusion that should die with him.

Meanwhile, the country’s 11.3 million residents are likely ready to embrace a new life. Extending aid after the hurricane would be a way of preparing those Cubans for the partnership that should follow the Castro era.

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