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Monday, June 19, 2000

Outdated Cuba policy
needs reassessment

Bullet The issue: Two prominent senators are proposing establishment of a commission on the U.S. policy on Cuba.

Bullet Our view: A reassessment of Cuba policy is overdue and badly needed.

IT'S time to rethink U.S. policy on Cuba. A proposal to that effect has been made in Congress, and it deserves support.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., announced that he and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, will introduce a proposal to establish a national commission on Cuban policy. Dodd will offer an amendment to the 2001 defense authorization bill to include the creation of a 12-member commission to review policy and make recommendations in six months.

The Connecticut Democrat said U.S. policy aimed at bringing down Fidel Castro by strangling Cuba has remained mired in the Cold War era because of the political clout of the Cuban exile community.

That community recently made its presence emphatically felt in the furor over the status of Elian Gonzalez. But public opinion reacted negatively to the Miami Cubans' attempt to prevent the boy's reunion with his father and their return to Cuba.

The U.S. embargo enforced since 1962 has failed to overthrow the Cuban dictator. Meanwhile the rationale for the embargo has disappeared. Castro is no longer the threat to U.S. security that he was when the policy was instituted.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the subsidies that propped up the Cuban economy have vanished. Castro has been forced to invite Western investors to the island. He has abandoned his dreams of leading an expansion of communism into Central America and beyond.

With the U.S. about to establish permanent normal trading relations with Communist China, there is no reason to maintain the embargo against Communist Cuba.

Warner, the initiative's co-sponsor, first proposed a national commission on Cuba policy in 1998. That proposal was supported by a quarter of the Senate and former secretaries of state in Republican administrations but was ignored by the White House. This time the effort is bipartisan and thus harder to ignore.

The Cuban-American community cannot be allowed to control U.S. policy on Cuba indefinitely. A thorough reassessment is needed.

The proposal comes as momentum is growing in Congress to exclude food and medicine sales from economic sanctions against Cuba. A growing number of Republican politicians, farmers, pharmaceutical firms and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pushing to ease the embargo.

The time is ripe for a reassessment of Cuba policy -- although any decision probably should not be made until a new administration assumes office in Washington.

Conflict in Solomons

Bullet The issue: Fighting has broken out between feuding groups of Melanesian islanders in the Solomon Islands.

Bullet Our view: The invading American forces in World War II brought Malaitans with them to Guadalcanal to carry supplies. This may have led to the current conflict.

LONG after American forces invaded the Solomon Islands in World War II to launch the island-hopping campaign that ended with Japan's surrender, some of the weapons they used in the Solomons are playing a role in an entirely different conflict.

When fighting erupted on the main island of Guadalcanal between the native Isatabus and the immigrant Malaitans, the Malaitans stole weapons from an armory. The Isatabus then resorted to foraging in the jungle for weapons left behind more than half a century ago by American GIs.

An Associated Press correspondent encountered a group of Isatabu soldiers at a roadblock outside Honaira, the capital. The soldiers displayed U.S. 61 mm shells strung together in bandoliers made from strips of rubber cut from tire inner tubes.

Most of the troops at the roadblock carried homemade single-shot rifles with hand-carved stocks and pipes fashioned into gun barrels -- no match for the M-16 machine guns wielded by the Malaitan rebels, who control the capital.

The crisis began when the Malaitans seized Honiara. This prompted the resignation of the prime minister, who agreed to let a 12-member committee of government and opposition leaders attempt to negotiate a peace settlement.

Many of the Malaitans originally came to Guadalcanal with the American forces, who used them to carry supplies. Thousands more followed after the war.

Now the Malaitans hold many of the best jobs in the capital. They are resented by the Isatabus, who say they are arrogant and aggressive and should go back to their home island.

The resentful Isatabus have been ousting the Malaitans from land in Guadalcanal. About 20,000 were forced to return to Malaita in the past 18 months. That led to the revolt by the Malaitans, who said the government was ignoring their plight.

THE crisis has similarities to the situation in Fiji, where the prime minister and president have been forced to resign. However, in Fiji the conflict involves two distinctive groups, the immigrant Indians and the indigenous Fijians of mostly Melanesian stock. In the Solomons both warring groups are Melanesian, although that fact doesn't seem to have softened their animosity.

The Solomons were a British protectorate until they became independent in 1978. But it may have been the coming of the Malaitans to Guadalcanal with the American troops who liberated the islanders from Japanese occupation that planted the seed of the current conflict.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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