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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Normalize relations between U.S., Cuba

The Bush administration is missing an opportunity to straighten things out with Cuba because of the strong anti-Castro lobby in the U.S.

With longtime dictator Fidel Castro apparently dying, Cuba may be vulnerable to change. Attempting to make a friend of Cuba rather than carry on the fallout from the Cold War makes a lot of sense.

Cuba could easily become a staging ground for another nation on its way to becoming a superpower if the U.S. doesn't take action.

China some day might love to set up shop in Havana. So might Iran.

The U.S. continues a senseless restriction on travel to and from Cuba and on most trade between the two countries.

State Sen. Lowell Barron, fresh from defeat as Senate leader, is one of the most outspoken critics of the Cuba policy. Back from his second trip to Cuba to promote Alabama farm products and the Port of Mobile, Sen. Barron said the existing trade embargo makes no sense.

He is 100 percent correct. In fact, it makes no sense to ignore the opportunity to establish lasting ties with Cuba.

As he pointed out, the U.S. trades with China and Vietnam, both former enemies and both dictatorships. So, what's the problem with establishing normal ties with Cuba and reducing the chance of another military giant moving in, as the old Soviet Union did?

The anti-Castro lobby is the roadblock because it is strong enough to discourage meaningful talk of normal relations.

As Sen. Barron and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks noted, Cuban trade with Alabama is significant. Last year, Cuba purchased about $140 million in goods from Alabama. One commodity Cuba agreed to buy is soybean oil processed in Decatur.

Barron believes Cuba is a market for West Alabama pond-raised catfish, too.

Normalizing relations with Cuba has so many potential benefits that continuing to ostracize the island-nation of 11 million people, who are but a boat ride away from the U.S., is folly.

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