Opportunity For U.S., Europe"Presidents-for-life" aren't known for being particularly gracious in their public statements, so Fidel Castro's belligerent attitude last week toward the European Union certainly wasn't a surprise.
After the 25-nation bloc decided to lift a ban on high-level visits by Cuban officials, Castro ripped the EU saying, among other things, that Cuba "doesn't need the United States, it doesn't need Europe."
Castro doesn't need either the United States or Europe, except as bogey countries to blame for his failures. But it's a good bet millions of others on the island would very much like normalized relations.
That's why Washington and Brussels should not be swayed by the near-octogenarian leader's harsh stance. Cuba's future does not lie in Castro's hands, but in the hearts and minds of the populace, which is, on average, considerably younger and more desirous of respectful diplomacy.
Unfortunately, the United States and the EU are not on the same page when it comes to Cuba policy. While Europe looks to engage Havana, the Bush administration restricts even contact between Cuban-Americans and their families and friends on the island. Washington calls for the release of Cubans wrongly jailed for exercising First Amendment-type rights, but Europeans are distancing themselves from those clamoring for more freedom in Cuba.
The end result is the U.S. and EU are likely to end up at cross-purposes, again, bolstering Castro's position instead of fostering momentum for a transition to democracy.
Perhaps Washington and Brussels should seek common ground for a more proactive and productive policy. Maybe they should take a cue from the very people they say they want to help: freedom-wanting Cubans.
On May 20, the anniversary of Cuba's independence from Spain, an array of Cuba-based organizations and individuals who advocate for greater liberty propose to gather in Havana. If they pull off this convocation, it could foster more cooperation and teamwork between them.
They would also prove that Cubans desire freedom because they want what's best for their country, not because they are agents of foreign governments. And they would deal a blow to the Castro government, which two years ago tried to foment suspicion between the groups via a crackdown on dissidents.
If Cubans are willing to trust each other, Washington and Brussels should demonstrate faith in each other, too, by finding common ground that maximizes their influence, not with Castro but with Cubans.