Tightening the screws on Cuba
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jul 20 06:40:42 MDT 2003
LA Times, July 20, 2003
Cuba Finds Crackdown on Dissent Has a Price
By Carol J. Williams, Times Staff Writer
HAVANA -- Almost any way you look at it in terms of trade, academic
exchanges or international standing Cuba's spring offensive against
domestic political opponents has cost the nation dearly.
Any way you look at it, that is, if you're not Fidel Castro.
The crackdown that sent 75 pro-democracy activists to prison and led to the
execution of three young hijackers has brought to a screeching halt efforts
in the U.S. Congress to ease the economic embargo imposed on Cuba soon
after Castro took power 44 years ago.
Although bad relations between Washington and Havana are as old as Castro's
revolution, the harsh measures meted out in March and April also angered
the European Union, Pope John Paul II, traditional allies in Latin America
and leftist intellectuals.
The Cuban government's attitude is: So be it.
"The independence of Cuba is priceless. Perhaps it will have a cost, but
principles are more valuable," said Rafael Dausa, the Foreign Ministry
official in charge of North American relations. "Perhaps tactically we
lost, but strategically we won because we are saving the revolution."
That line of thinking, set out by Castro in recent speeches and echoed by
those in his government, "handed the Bush administration what it wanted on
a silver platter," said Brian Alexander, executive director of the Cuba
Policy Foundation in Washington.
Before the crackdown, the foundation had amassed considerable momentum to
ease trade and travel restrictions against Cuba. But it folded its
political tent April 23, announcing the resignation of its entire board of
directors and declaring its revulsion at Cuba's human rights abuses.
"Our Achilles' heel was that all our efforts were dependent on Cuba
cooperating," Alexander said.
Not only did the crackdown on dissent validate the view that Cuba is a
repressive regime that should be isolated and punished, he said, but it
undermined the argument that, politics aside, Cuba could be a good place to
"It's not. The risks are obvious if a regime is so retrograde that it's
willing to undermine its own economy," the exasperated lobbyist said.
At the U.S. Interests Section here, a heavily guarded eight-story edifice
that is an embassy in all but name, mission chief James Cason said he
stands by his opposition to any easing of the embargo because he has "not
been convinced otherwise that it would do anything for human rights or
The Bush administration's new point man in the diplomatic clash with
Castro, Cason arrived in Havana a year ago and embarked immediately on
efforts to bolster the weak and fractured opposition to Castro.
The envoy met with fledgling dissident groups in the provinces. He mustered
U.S. aid to independent libraries and publications. His home and Interests
Section offices were made available for workshops and meetings aimed at
strengthening groups opposed to Castro.
It was that assertive attitude that outraged Castro, who in turn outraged
friends and foes alike with his roundup of almost every dissident who had
connections to Cason.
But unlike previous acts of repression by Castro that were aimed as much at
Cuban exiles in the United States as at opponents in this country, this
crackdown has reverberated around the globe.
The 15-nation European Union, Cuba's largest trade partner and foreign
investor, imposed sanctions in June to protest human rights abuses. The
Europeans decided unanimously to limit high-level government contacts and
participation in cultural events in Cuba.
It earlier froze Cuba's request to join the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between
the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific nations. Membership
would have made Cuba eligible for much-needed trade financing and aid.
Castro reacted to the censure by staging noisy rallies outside European
embassies and seizing the Spanish cultural center a move that angered the
country from which the biggest pool of foreign investment has come to Cuba.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog group, has embarked
on a summer campaign to dissuade Europeans from vacationing in Cuba to
protest the jailing of independent journalists. At least half of the 1.8
million tourists who came to Cuba in each of the last two years were from
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