Why we need Cuba at table in Canada

Al Neuharth
Saturday, April 21, 2001

President Bush and the heads of state of 34 of the 35 countries in this hemisphere are meeting in Canada this weekend. Their goal: Try to ensure an American free-trade zone from Alaska to Antarctica by 2005, to compete more effectively with Europe and Asia.

This is the third such summit since 1994. Each time, the U.S. has nixed attendance by Cuba's Fidel Castro. Despite that, every other major country in the Americas, and most in the world, now carry on normal economic and diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The USA has the most to lose if the top-to-toe American free-trade zone doesn't work. Nearly 40% of our exports currently go to other countries in this hemisphere.

In the next decade or two, these three blocs likely will call the economic shots around the world:

* The European Community, now led by Germany, Britain and France, but which ultimately will include Russia as a big player.

* The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, scheduled to take full effect in
2020. That includes the U.S., but China and Japan are keys.

* The Free Trade Area of the Americas. We clearly should dominate this, but we must overcome misguided opposition from labor and environmentalists, and we must get in step with the rest of the hemisphere, especially vis-à-vis Cuba.

Of course, Castro is a dictator. So were Mikhail Gorbachev and his predecessors in the USSR, and Deng Xiaoping and his forerunners in China. But we did business with them. Their people benefited, and so did we.

Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has tried unsuccessfully to castrate Castro. The best move Bush could make when he addresses the summit in Canada on Saturday morning is to announce that he would welcome, if not
necessarily embrace, Castro at the table.