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(HOST) With Cuba once again in American headlines, commentator Olin Robison says that the main reason the United States has had so much trouble establishing a constructive policy towards Cuba is that it is so close.

(ROBISON) Fidel Castro will turn eighty this weekend – if he is still alive which now looks quite likely. He has been the supreme leader in Cuba for forty-seven years. In his early days as Cuban leader there were numerous efforts to do him in – much of which is now well documented – but he survived them all.

A few days ago there was much public celebration in Little Havana which is how part of downtown Miami is known. When Castro went into the hospital for intestinal surgery there seemed to be – in Miami at least – the assumption that he would die in the hospital and that great changes were immediately at hand. That does not now appear to be the case.

Cuba’s communist regime really is one of the last vestiges of the Cold War. And it is primarily in the United States where animosities remain alive and sometimes virulent toward Cuba’s government. Most other countries either don’t care or have moved on. Moving on for most means reaching whatever accommodation with Cuba is necessary for their companies and corporations to do business there. The assumption in these other countries is that Castro is growing old and that Cuba will sooner rather than later reenter the international community as a “normal” country whatever that means, and there is money is to be made.

Toward the end of his fourteen year presidency in France, French President Mitterand received Fidel Castro in Paris according him most of the trappings of a State Visit. In his remarks to the press on that occasion Mitterand departed from the usual cautiously measured language of diplomacy and referred to U.S. policy toward Cuba as “stupid” – but then Mitterand wasn’t running for office in the United States. We’ve had a long string of presidential races in this country in which opposing candidates have tried to outdo each other in showing themselves to be “tough on Cuba”. The large Cuban-American community has been pretty dependably Republican in these races and certainly played a significant role in delivering Florida to Bush in the 2000 presidential race.

On Duval Street in Key West there is a small sign that reads: “Havana 85 Miles”. A short distance away there is another that says it is 90 miles. Either way, it is the closeness, in my opinion, that has prevented the United States from coming to grips with policy towards Cuba in a more imaginative and more constructive way. It is also the closeness, of course, that has resulted in there being so large a Cuban-American population in Southern Florida.

If Cuba were three or four thousand miles away its remaining claim to being the only real communist revolutionary state would now be rather humorous. It isn’t of course. It isn’t far away and it isn’t humorous.

The Bush administration is being exceptionally cautious about Cuba just now. Secretary of State Rice a few days ago made a rather prudent statement which was broadcast toward Cuba encouraging Cubans to work for change at home rather than in the United States.

So, dear friends, stay tuned. I predict that change in Cuba will turn out to be more evolutionary than revolutionary and, all in all, that is probably for the good.

Fidel may pull through this time but change is at hand and probably sooner rather than later.

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.

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