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Published on Sunday, April 2, 2000 in the New York Times
Elián Needed An Embassy
by Gary Hart
KITTREDGE, Colo. -- The warped relationship between Cuba and the United States is a principal cause and complication of the controversy surrounding Elián González, yet it barely figures in the debate. The pathetic tug of war over a small child could have been managed much more maturely if we had normal diplomatic relations.

The cold war is well over. Cuba offers no threat, military or otherwise, to the United States. Our 40-year trade embargo achieves nothing. Our policy toward Cuba can be summarized as waiting for Fidel Castro to die. For those who find this worthy of a great nation, it should be noted that both of his parents lived into their 90's. Regardless of his health, the policy is demeaning to the United States.

We had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout the cold war. Under the leadership of Richard Nixon, we opened diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. We have an embassy in Hanoi. There is no valid reason for our anachronistic policy toward Cuba.

But there is a reason -- it is politics. Both political parties court the Cuban-American vote. National candidates of both political parties assume they need these votes to carry Miami, and Miami to carry Florida, and Florida to win the White House.

As they did in the Soviet bloc, normal diplomatic relations and open trade and travel can lead to freedom and democracy in Cuba much faster than the present policy, which serves only to satisfy the resentment of one segment of our people.

In today's controversy, the candidates, the media and all involved focus on where the boy ends up, not where the national interest ends up. And this is the point: not what is in the interest of the Cuban-American community, but what is in the national interest.

It is in our national interest to have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, as it is to have them with most other nations. Why cannot any leader in the United States, including the president, say this clearly and directly? The vast majority of the American people would applaud such a step as genuine leadership. And the people of the world would note that the United States had taken a diplomatic step worthy of its principles.

Gary Hart is a former Democratic senator from Colorado.


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