Cuba's continuing battle

Published : Aug 15, 2003 00:00 IST

A rally in front of the Spanish embassy in Havana on June 12 to protest against the European Union's support for Cuban dissidents. - CLAUDIA DAUT/REUTERS

A rally in front of the Spanish embassy in Havana on June 12 to protest against the European Union's support for Cuban dissidents. - CLAUDIA DAUT/REUTERS

The Cuban people celebrate the 50th anniversary of the storming of the Moncada Barracks, even as the European Union and the Bush administration step up their attacks on the Fidel Castro regime.

CUBANS celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic attack on the Moncada Barracks in the last week of July. The valour displayed by the guerillas led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the attack is still the stuff of legend. The attack was one of the first significant moves against the Batista regime. The Cuban Revolution triumphed ultimately, on January 1, 1959.

Cubans commemorate the event in a big way every year. The celebrations assumed even greater relevance this year as Cubans are gearing up to face yet another challenge to their sovereignty from the colossus to the north - the United States.

Senior Bush administration officials are talking openly about a "regime change" in Havana. George W. Bush, with a presidential re-election campaign looming on the horizon, is promising Cubans that they "will soon be free", and that "dictatorships have no place in Latin America". In a recent speech at the annual meeting of the Organisation of American States in Santiago, Chile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed to other Latin American nations to "hasten the inevitable democratic transition in Cuba".

It soon became obvious that the majority of Latin American states did not share the Bush administration's views on Cuba. In what was seen as a rebuff to Washington, its candidate for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was rejected. For the first time since the organisation was created in 1959, the U.S. will go without representation in the seven-member commission.

Incidentally, the Bush administration's candidate for the commission was Rafael Martinez, brother of Mel Martinez, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The Martinezs are intimately connected to the notorious Florida-based Cuban exile community. The community is well represented in the higher echelons of the Bush administration. Many Americans believe that it was mainly due to its influence that Bush could win in the State of Florida in the controversial presidential election of 2000. Anti-Castro Cubans in the U.S. have been holding regular demonstrations in Florida after the war in Iraq, carrying placards bearing slogans such as "Iraq today, Cuba tomorrow".

Washington has very few willing accomplices in its newly reinvigorated quest to destabilise Cuba. In Latin America, only a handful of countries have supported the Bush administration's Cuba policy. In recent years, to the surprise of international observers, Mexico and Peru have jumped on the Bush administration's anti-Cuba bandwagon, especially after the defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico and the election of Alejandro Toledo as President of Peru. The other supporters of the Bush administration's Cuba policy are Spain and Italy.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have been trying to outdo Bush in their efforts to demonise the socialist government of Cuba. Berlusconi has got into the Cuba bashing act only recently. Aznar, on the other hand, has been going about it with missionary zeal for quite some time now. Not surprisingly, Aznar was the lone European leader to support the U.S.-backed coup attempt in Venezuela.

Recently, the European Union (E.U.) embassies in Havana decided to act in close coordination with the American Interests Section in the Cuban capital. The embassies took the unprecedented decision to invite Cuban dissidents to their national holiday celebrations. Cuba responded by asking its diplomats not to attend the E.U. receptions. E.U. diplomats were warned by Havana against spending too much time with Cuban "dissidents" - it was made clear that if the diplomats did not heed the government's request, they would be deported. Cuba has also closed Spain's cultural centre in Havana, saying that Madrid was indulging in subversive activities. In recent months, many E.U. countries have become vociferous in their criticism of Cuba. The heightening of tensions took place after a court in Havana sentenced three men to death by firing squad and 75 Cubans were arrested for anti-state activities. The three persons were the first Cubans to be executed in many years. The Cuban government was in a way forced to take tough decisions as Washington was openly encouraging Cubans to hijack planes and boats, endangering the lives of innocent people in the process.

The Spanish Foreign Minister played a key role in convincing the E.U. to indefinitely postpone any consideration of Cuba's application for admission to the Cotonou Convention. Membership of the Convention would give Cuba access to much-needed hard currency loans. The American economic blockade of Cuba has denied its beleaguered economy funds from international lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Amnesty International Report for the year 2002, states that Cuba accounted for none of the 1,560 death sentences carried out worldwide that year. In fact, the largest number of executions was carried out in the U.S. Last year there were 71 executions in the U.S. alone. Two of those executed were women.

Ernesto Cardenal, a Catholic priest, who was a Minister in the Sandinista government which ruled Nicaragua in the 1980s has noted that the Western media and the E.U. have not protested much about the treatment meted out to the prisoners being held by the Americans in the Guantanamo naval base, which, incidentally, is in Cuba (in the part of the island of occupied by the U.S). Cardenal has observed that the E.U. has not demanded the immediate release of the prisoners, despite the inhuman treatment being meted out to them. In fact, many of those being held in Guantanamo are citizens of E.U. countries.

The priest points out that the arrests of 75 "dissidents" and the execution of the three hijackers in Cuba happened in special circumstances. "We are talking about a country on full alert and facing the danger of being invaded," Cardenal wrote in a Spanish newspaper. He emphasised that those accusing Cuba of human rights violations were themselves responsible for the greatest violation of human rights since Hitler. "And those who condemned Cuba for the shooting of three people by a firing squad were destroying Baghdad in a way that had not occurred since the 13th century Mongol invasion."

The E.U.'s decisions on Cuba have been welcomed with glee in Washington. Colin Powell said that the U.S. would now be able to "join with the E.U. in a common strategy against Cuba". The E.U.'s move was, of course, endorsed by the Cuban exile community. The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement, reminded the E.U. that Cuba is a sovereign country "that won its full independence as the result of a long and painful process, which included more than half a century of struggle against a corrupt neo-colonial society which was established in our country after the shameful Paris Agreements in which Spain ceded Cuba to the United States behind the backs of the Cuban people."

Cuba continues to retain strong ties with its traditional friends in Asia, Africa and Latin America. When Fidel Castro was in Argentina to attend the inauguration of Argentina's new President Nestor Kirchner in May, he attracted huge crowds and the most applause. Kirchner himself has indicated that he wants closer ties with Cuba. Argentina under the Peronist Carlos Menem, had distanced itself from Cuba, and was playing the role that is currently assigned to Spain and Peru by Washington. Castro's admirers like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Lucio Guiterrez of Ecuador are presiding over the destinies of their countries.

Meanwhile, Cuba has refused to be browbeaten by the U.S. In the third week of July, the Bush administration accused Cuba of jamming American television broadcasts beamed to far away Iran. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-funded Iranian broadcasters, based in California, have been targeting Iranian audiences in their homeland with subversive propaganda.

The Bush administration has also been bombarding Cuba with hostile propaganda through the auspices of the CIA-funded Radio Marti, located in Miami. Concurrently, terrorist activities against Cuba are also being encouraged with the connivance of the Bush administration.

The Cuban government has given innumerable instances of such activities, originating from Miami as well as other centres such as Panama City.

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