When the Cuban air force shot down two unarmed civilian planes, killing four men, there followed yet another round of senseless debate over how to handle Fidel Castro and his aging revolution. Cuban exiles renewed their call for vindication of still more deaths, while Time magazine ran Castro’s justification of the “defensive” act. The Clinton administration condemned Cuba and sought the counsel (i.e., political support) of the self-proclaimed leaders of Cuban-Americans. The Republican hopeful(s) denounced the atrocity and assured a disbelieving public that Castro would not survive their administration. Congressmen of select districts clamored to condemn the inhumanity. The interested media pontificated while the disinterested media shifted the blame.

To promote the status quo, indisputable acts are endlessly disputed. There arc those who justify the murders, for after all, the four dead men had in the past flown missions over Havana to drop leaflets; for the planes were “over” Cuban territory (wrong: they were in international airspace, one flying toward the United States and the other in a parallel course); for the dead were merely Cuban troublemakers (wrong: two were Americans, one with two tours of Vietnam as a U.S. Marine to his credit). There are those who ask rhetorically why the murdered “Cubans” did not go back to Cuba, though this is precisely what Cubans have been trying to do for the past 37 years. So endlessly we analyze acts of brutality until . . . the next act of brutality, when the debate begins anew.

And yet, how do we treat Castro today? Like visiting royalty. During his five-day visit to New York to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, Castro received over 200 invitations beseeching his presence (not counting the invitations from those who wanted to kill him), lunched with the Council of Foreign Relations, met with legions of business tycoons, preached to a gathering of over 100 religious leaders, generated audience-pleasing diatribes at assorted churches and cafes, graced every major network’s “news” programs with interviews (including a one-hour speech-athon with CNN), visited the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Time, touted the editorials from five major newspapers supportive of his economic and political policies, and was the focus of every tabloid and journal in the capital of capitalism. Jeff Greenfield on World News Sunday said that “protestors gathered . . . to denounce alleged repression [in Cuba] because he [Castro] is a communist only 90 miles away.” The implication was that if Castro were 9,000 miles away, or a Republican, but in both cases still a murderer, there wouldn’t be protestors. The “alleged” is there solely to further delude the delusion.

Couldn’t we simply ignore Castro, our de facto secretary of state to the south? Perhaps not, for his foreign and domestic policies have cost us many lives and untold billions. The Eisenhower administration in effect ignored the absconding of American capital and businesses in Cuba. The Kennedy administration gave us the Bay of Pigs and solved the Missile Crisis by releasing pictures and leaving missiles on the island. The Johnson administration accepted Cuban-exported revolution into Latin America, meeting the threat with billions in foreign aid, then cautiously taking credit for the hunting down of Ernesto Guevara, despite the fact that it was Castro who alerted the Bolivian army as to his whereabouts. The Nixon administration ineffectively thwarted Cuban expansion into Central America and Angola, again costing us lives and billions. And who can forget the Mariel boatlift, courtesy of the Carter administration? A humanitarian act no doubt, since Castro eliminated, at our expense, the overcrowding of his prisons and asylums for the criminally insane. The Reagan administration fought the communist threat by eliminating a heavy-bomber runway in Grenada and ignoring the same type of runways in Cuba. The Bush administration tolerated the drug trafficking by Cuba, placating the American public by pointing to the show trial of the Generals LaGuardia, despite the fact that drug trafficking by the Cuban government remains one of the biggest sources of revenue on the island.

Normalizing relations with Cuba, although popular with the media, is not imminent, as long as a protected sect stands to benefit from the present state of affairs. The Castro regime tortures and murders and exports revolution and drugs, but as long as money is being made under the status quo, the tortures and the murders and the exporting of revolution and drugs merit nothing more than lip service. Heaven help the reelection (or election) bid of anyone who seriously proposes dealing strongly with Castro, for this would mean harming the sugar, tobacco, tourist, produce, and profitable drug war industries. Could these politicians justify the thousands of unemployed drug enforcement personnel? Could they accept thousands of sugar, tobacco, and produce workers joining the ranks of the unemployed because the prices of these commodities had dropped? Could they tolerate the screaming by the airlines, which even under the Helms-Burton bill pays a fortune to Cuba for use of her airspace, but who would have to pay much more to fly around the island? Simply put, there is no financial incentive to remove Castro.

Could we negotiate with Castro? A better question is, why should Castro negotiate with us? After all, he gets what he wants right now. Both our trade and immigration policies regarding Cuba are directed by him. The embargo is a porous shell that enriches many and delivers what is deemed acceptable by the regime. Our conservative radio talk show hosts decry the abominations of Castro while lighting up yet another Cuban cigar, as if it matters that they were purchased overseas, as if that would make any difference to the thousands of individuals still rotting in Cuban prisons. One of the biggest trades in Miami is the sending of goods to Cuba, and since virtually all of the people performing these so-called humanitarian gestures are retired Cuban-Americans (the ones who claim to have lost everything in the exodus), they receive Social Security and Medicare-Medicaid benefits. They use the Social Security money to buy goods, shipping the products along with the free medicines and medical supplies provided at taxpayer expense to an embargoed Cuba. Visit any clinic in Miami, and one would swear an epidemic had struck the entire Cuban-American population of retirement age. In essence, the embargo enriches many and prohibits little, and therefore negotiations will be of questionable benefit to all. As with the War on Drugs, we have a knack for doing things quite ineffectively as far as the stated goals are concerned, but quite effectively in securing the unstated goals of financial and political rewards.

The mass held in Miami for the four men brought out a small group of family members, zealots, and the curious. The event itself was quite insensible and torpid, keeping in line with a Miami archdiocese desperately wanting to placate Castro. But what was startling was the expression of one of the mothers, who lost her son for no real reason. She exuded a despair, a condemning stare, not at any people or any government, but perhaps for believing that she had escaped the influence of a despot, only to find that she had not escaped at all. Like a bad dream, as lived by the solemn mother, the demented in Havana control those who are there as well as us here.

As the only solution to this problem, we should regain control of our foreign and domestic policies, and act purely for the benefit of our national interest. Our national interest includes equitable agreements with cooperating governments and humanitarian assistance when such assistance is used exclusively for humanitarian purposes. Our national interest entails fiscal soundness, which is not gained by maintaining artificially high prices on certain commodities and trade. Our national interest does not include the pursuit of folly at the expense of lives or massive foreign aid (read: tax dollars) or by draining local resources to the point of annihilation. Base our domestic and foreign policies on these sensible goals, and Castro and other despots like him will eventually fall.