Will the Bush Administration Attack Cuba Next?
Cuba Says Gov. Bush is Urging an Attack
By Charles D. Sherman
The Miami Herald
Monday 19 May 2003
On U.S. news show, Alarc n claims plot
A top Cuban official charged in an interview broadcast Sunday that Gov. Jeb Bush is pressing his brother, President Bush, to bring down the government of Fidel Castro.
Appearing on ABC's This Week, Ricardo Alarc n, the leader of Cuba's National Assembly, said Florida's governor was urging President Bush to invade the island.
''You have, first of all, those in Miami that are calling for even a military action against Cuba, including the governor,'' Alarc n said.
Later in the interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Alarc n said: ``I am convinced that not very far from President Bush and his entourage are people that are not just willing, but actively working toward that . . . [Jeb Bush] was very open, calling publicly in Florida to do in the neighborhood, in the nation of Cuba, what you just did to Iraq.''
In recent weeks, U.S.-Cuban relations have reached a low point over the arrests and trials of 75 Cuban dissidents, who were given lengthy prison terms, and the expulsion on orders from the State Department of 14 Cuban diplomats from Washington and New York.
Following the broadcast of the ABC interview, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bush dismissed Alarc n's charges.
Alia Faraj, Gov. Bush's press secretary, said that the governor has not changed his views on Cuba. ''Gov. Bush has been very clear in his position that he does not condone Castro's repressive regime,'' she said, according to a report from The Associated Press.
``Americans should continue to show their support for the brave men and women who continue to seek change through continued support of an economic embargo and travel restrictions.''
Gov. Bush was reported to be in Austin for the graduation of his son, George P. Bush, from law school.
In the interview, Alarc n also pointed to a March 28 demonstration in Miami that featured some members of Congress and included a banner that read, ``Iraq now, Cuba next.''
Joe Garcia, spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, said Sunday that Alarc n's statements fit a pattern used in times of stress by the Castro government. ''This is a regime that for the last 44 years has been preparing for a U.S. invasion,'' Garcia said.
``Anytime they are suffering a crisis, they externalize it. It is someone else's fault -- the Miami mafia, the U.S. or puppet leaders in Latin America.''
Garcia said Alarc n's harsh rhetoric and his claims that the United States is seeking a pretext to invade Cuba is an attempt to find a way to negotiate with the Bush administration on several issues, including migration and trade.
''The problem is that Fidel Castro negotiates with human lives,'' Garcia said.
Alarc n's accusation follows statements by Cuba's Foreign Ministry characterizing the U.S. expulsion of 14 diplomats on Tuesday as an effort to provoke conflict.
The State Department said it had ordered the diplomats to return to Cuba for various transgressions, including monitoring and surveillance, association with known criminals, and the attempted recruitment of spies.
Cuba, meanwhile, has been criticized internationally for the recent sentencing of 75 dissidents to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years on charges of collaborating with U.S. officials to undermine Cuba's communist government.
Cuba has also been widely condemned for the April 11 execution of three accused hijackers of a ferry boat they seized in effort to reach the United States.
Castro said the executions were necessary to stem further hijackings.
This report was supplemented with material from the Associated Press.
Home Run to Havana
By Simon Tisdall
Friday 16 May 2003
After scoring in Afghanistan and Iraq, Simon Tisdall says George Bush may be setting his sights on Cuba for a hat trick of "American justice"
When George Bush decides to make a speech these days, the world watches. This is not exactly because the US president has a big, international fan club. Nor is it because he makes particularly good television, even when he dresses up in a flying suit and uses America's fighting men and women for scenery.
No, the reason the world watches when Bush opens his mouth is because everybody is wondering: what IS he going to say now? Is he going to invade Iran or have the US liberate France again? Is he going to announce another tax cut for millionaires or start a new trade war with Europe? Or maybe he's going to deliver "America's justice" to another poor, benighted part of the planet before heading back to the Air Force One gym.
Early warning: Bush is expected to make another of his speeches next Tuesday - and like so many of its predecessors, it could spell trouble. Tuesday is the 101st anniversary of Cuba's independence. And like last year, the president appears to have some peculiarly unhelpful ideas about a birthday present.
Bush and his advisers are fixing a beady eye on Fidel Castro's regime for a number of reasons, some of which are entirely justified. Earlier this year, Castro ordered the arrest of dozens of political dissidents and many of them have since been jailed for lengthy terms. Some were accused of taking money from the US while promoting the sort of reforms sought last year by the Varela Project petitioners. But their principal offence appears to be not agreeing with Fidel.
Castro also sent three ferry hijackers before a firing squad, marking a return to active use of capital punishment that has dismayed Cuba's friends in Latin America and Europe as well as the US. Reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International continually point to a broad range of human rights issues in Cuba that Castro fails to address. Colin Powell said recently that the human rights situation there is "deteriorating". Global statesman Jimmy Carter and the Pope, both visitors to Cuba in recent years, have expressed similar concerns.
On the other hand, a lot of Cuba's problems - including the continuing efforts of a significant number of its citizens to raft or boat or swim to what they hope will be a better life in the US - should not simply be attributed to Castro's misrule. They arise from the trade and travel and other sanctions that Washington has long maintained, from a history of Cold War enmity and presidential miscalculations, and from the Castro government's political isolation and paranoia.
Democrats in Congress who this week proposed a bill easing some US sanctions know the truth of this. They argue that more American contact - at every level - with Cuba, and more exposure of Cubans to Americans can only benefit the country in terms of its economy and political culture. This is also the approach of Britain and the European Union, who argue that engagement, not confrontation, represents the best hope of rapprochement, reform, and the non-violent evolution of democratic governance on the island.
Bush looks unlikely to endorse this approach next week. On the contrary, he is expected to take a series of steps to try to bolster internal opposition, tighten existing economic and other regulations, and - possibly - cut back the consular arrangements under which up to 20,000 Cubans are able to resettle legally in the US each year.
The Administration gave an earnest statement of its intentions this week when it expelled 14 Cuban diplomats from the US on vague, unspecified charges. Reports in the US media suggest that this was a politically-driven decision which had very little to do with espionage or other Cuban misbehaviour and an awful lot to do with the White House's desire to send a tough message.
The Cuban head of mission in the US, Dagoberto Rodriguez, offers an explanation for the Administration's hardening approach that will cause unease far beyond the Florida straits. He says that by cutting back on US entry visas and weakening the Clinton era agreements on immigration quotas, Bush and his hawkish coterie may be deliberately trying to foment social unrest in Cuba that could in turn lead to more seaborne mass exoduses of "rafters".
Such an eventuality, he warns, could be used by the US as a pretext for direct intervention. Rodriguez told a Washington press conference this week that Cuba has already been informed, officially, that the Bush administration would deem a new wave of illegal immigration to be "an act of war". He suspects that is a scenario some in Washington are secretly pursuing.
So pause right here. A powerful reason why Bush's speech on Cuba's independence day will be watched carefully round the world is because of the fear that, having scored in Afghanistan and Iraq, the commander-in-chief may be looking to complete his hat trick with a home run to Havana.
How seriously should such fears be taken? Probably not too seriously at present. Even though some US officials have accused Castro of links with terrorism and even of trying to acquire unconventional weapons, there are lots of good reasons why Bush, and the Pentagon, and the American public, are not really up for another war right now. Enough conquering already.
All the same, there is a nagging worry here. As election year approaches, and Bush gears up for a second-term campaign, there is no doubt that Florida will once again be a key swing state. Without question, as in the past, Florida's Cuban-Americans will form a key voting bloc. They comprise 7% of the state's electorate - far more than the narrow, disputed but winning margin in 2000. And there is no doubt, on past experience, that a tougher line on Cuba will help Bush and his governor brother push a few hanging chads their way.
The worry is that, while presenting their Cuba policy as a matter of principle, they will actually be pursuing crude party political and electoral advantage. The worry is that, as with Iraq, Bush will confuse the nation's interest with his own.
Once Bush starts stirring up trouble, for whatever reason, good or bad, and when and if Castro responds with confrontational or unwise actions of his own, the likelihood rises that a negative dynamic will be set in train that will be hard to stop or control.
This is not an attractive or edifying prospect for the impoverished Cubans, or for concerned Americans, or indeed for a watching world. Threatening more hard words and hard knocks is not a sensible or responsible way to resolve entrenched US-Cuba problems. Perhaps Bush should cancel next week's speech and just go for a bracing jog instead. Even better, go talk to Jimmy Carter about the best thing to do. Now that would be a TV event worth watching.
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