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A modest proposal for Fidel

Timothy C. Brown
Friday, May 17, 2002

The threat to our nation's security and our personal safety posed by today's terrorists came painfully home to Americans on 9/11. President Bush's response, to declare war on terrorism and warn all other countries that either they are with us in that war or against us, was exactly right. The proof is that a number of countries that once sponsored terrorism, such as Libya and Syria, quickly enlisted on our side. But two historical state sponsors of terrorism have not done so, Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Hussein's position is clear. He will continue to sponsor terrorism, and to hell with Bush. But Cuba's teflon totalitarian has managed thus far to mask his refusal to cooperate behind the mask of an unnatural union of traditional old-left Castro sympathizers and neo-conservative capitalists salivating to profit by trading with Cuba, regardless of what Castro does. By hiding behind this mask, thus far Castro has managed to fully escape the consequences of his own past actions. It is now time to apply the "Bush Doctrine" to him. Either Castro must be with us in the war on terrorism or be clearly marked a continuing protector of terrorists, and treated accordingly.

Former President Jimmy Carter's recent ill informed comments in Havana were, quite simply, factually wrong. Intelligence on Castro's historical support for worldwide terrorism is clear, extensive, and undeniable, and a great deal of it must have flowed across Carter's desk while he was President. It is well documented that, immediately after taking power in 1959, Castro began training, arming, and sending into action almost any terrorist or revolutionary that asked for help, and continued to do so for decades. Cuban training camps at such places as Campamiento Cerro just outside Havana teemed with recruits learning how to make bombs, rob banks, and kidnap for ransom, all traditional terror tactics. A number of former revolutionaries who were trained in them have described to me in great detail just what they were taught, and by whom.

Cubans also began serving as key instructors, passing on their black skills to future terrorists from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe at training camps in such places as Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The terrible consequences of what they did are still being suffered throughout much of the world. Many a leader of Hamas and Hizbullah who today is sending suicide bombers into Israel honed his terrorist skills under the approving eye of Cuban instructors, and other Cuban trained terrorists remain active in Europe and elsewhere. The Basque ETA, Irish IRA, and Italian Red Guard come to mind.

Cuba must have kept careful records on those it trained, and probably also recruited agents from within their ranks. That's what professional intelligence services do simply as a matter of course, and Cuba's intelligence services are very professional indeed. Just last October we uncovered a Cuban mole burrowed deep inside our own Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes.

Information in Cuba's archives and its agents within terrorist groups constitute an incomparable source of urgently needed intelligence. They are, in effect, the Crown Jewels of terrorism. If, as he claims, Castro is fully with us in the war on terrorism, he can readily demonstrate this by sharing them with us. Is this too much to ask? Not really. In fact, after 9/11, we reportedly did ask Castro for just such help, and he responded by giving us some materials from this trove. But what he gave us turned out to be his "garbage." In other words, he tried to con us. We then sent high-level emissaries to Cuba to try once more, but again they met only with disappointments, and with cons. This will not do.

Castro is deep into an energetic campaign to garner for himself and his regime both greater legitimacy, and more "Yankee dollars" he can channel to those who keep him in power. Despite the value of Carter's calls in Havana for free elections and the protection of human rights, Castro has not changed. The former President's recent visit to Havana served far more as a highlight of Castro's campaign for legitimacy and dollars than as a catalyst for change. Instead, Castro not only can now continue as dictator, he is even more able to protect his treasure trove on terrorism. This Janis-faced stance should not go unchallenged. But, to change it, we need both carrots and sticks. Politico-tourism alone won't suffice.

The best leverage for change continues to emanate from the very "Yankee Dollars" Castro publicly reviles but privately covets, not to improve the lot of his people but to keep the three pillars of his power, the army, secret police, and Communist Party, strong and happy. But, despite this campaign, Castro's three biggest sources of dollars are still vulnerable to American actions: family remittances to Cuba (more than $800m. last year), exports of tobacco, sugar, nickel, and other goods to third countries that also trade with us, and tourism. While none of these should be cut off by the U.S., each can and should be converted into an instrument to defend our security interests. Based on my experience managing the embargo on a day-to-day basis, this is how it can be done:

First, trade: We should begin licensing almost all American products for export to Cuba, for cash only. The volume and content should then be linked to Castro's behavior in the war on terrorism. Orchestrated and harnessed, trade flows can and should be enlisted in support of our interests, not his.

Second, tourism: We should not open up Cuba to unlimited American tourism. This would simply increase Castro's cash flow without modifying his behavior. Instead, we should license pre-paid tours by Americans sold by American companies with the number of licenses issued dependent on Castro's behavior. This way we can allow Americans to travel as freely as possible while also managing the flow of tourist dollars to Cuba. Bush can do this tomorrow simply by modifying existing regulations. American tourism would also then become harnessed to our national security needs in this time of war.

Third, family remittances: We should remove the current limits on how many dollars can be sent to relatives in Cuba, but require that all senders and recipients be identified by name to the Treasury Department. We should then require a major percentage of those dollars to be spent on licensed American goods entering that country - food, medicines, clothing, appliances, what have you. This would give us yet another lever on dollar flows to Cuba that could, if necessary, also be harnessed to our greater interests.

If Castro fully cooperates in the war against terrorism, tourism, and remittances would then let Cuba earn all the dollars it needs to buy all the imports it wants from us. But by licensing and monitoring,_ this flow of dollars can be made to serve our interests, not Castro's. The "Yankee Dollars" Castro so covets can then be used either as carrots or as sticks. The choice will be his. If Castro chooses to cooperate fully in the war against terrorism, they can be carrots. If not, they can become sticks. Bush can take all these steps, and then orchestrate their implementation within his existing authority. How?

It is illegal today for Cuban tobacco, sugar, nickel, coffee, or other products to enter the U.S., even in the tiniest of quantities, as ingredients in products from third countries such as smoking tobaccos, sugared hams, or auto parts, and the technology exists to identify all Cuban origin materials in such imports. The techniques to do so exist. Remittances flow as licensed financial transactions that can be tracked if desired. American travel to Cuba purely for tourism is also illegal, but the ban is poorly enforced. We should throw nooses around these loopholes, and then loosen or tighten them depending on Castro's behavior.

But before we loosen the embargo, Castro must first be required to demonstrate to our satisfaction, by his actions not words that, despite our deep ideological differences, he is with us in the war on terrorism. He can do this by opening up to us his archives on terrorists and by actively helping us identify, ferret out, and eliminate from among those he recruited, trained, and supported all those who pose a threat to us today. Such cooperation can then be rewarded. But failure to do so should be considered proof that, despite his words, Castro is still protecting terrorists. We should then declare his con game over, and impose whatever sanctions we think are necessary, including an even tighter embargo if necessary.

Dr. Timothy C. Brown is Chair, International Studies, Sierra Nevada College and a Research fellow of the Hoover Institution. A career diplomat for 27 years, he managed the Cuba embargo for two years while Deputy Coordinator for Cuban Affairs in the State Department. His published books include "The Real Contra War" (Oklahoma, 2000) and "When the AK-47s Fall Silent" (Hoover, 2001).

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