US/CUBA: Back to the Brickbats

by Dalia Acosta


HAVANA, Cuba January 17, 2007 – The volume level of the dispute between Cuba and the United States, after a lull that followed the announcement of President Fidel Castro’s illness on Jul. 31, has begun returning to its normal high decibels since early January.


Absent any major crisis or tensions of the kind that had some of the island’s residents thinking, “Surely, now they will close the U.S. Interests Section,” Havana appears to have reactivated its previous mechanism of responding to threats from the “enemy.”


“The country is getting back in gear, and there are various possible interpretations: either everything is carrying on as usual without Fidel, or Fidel is at taking the helm again to a certain extent, although he hasn’t fully recovered yet,” said a philosophy professor at the University of Havana, who requested anonymity.


“Same old, same old,” was the comment of a vendor selling newspapers to foreign tourists in the historic centre of the Cuban capital.


Recently the Cuban press has reported no news whatsoever about the president’s state of health, although foreign media referred to it as potentially serious and cited problems with his recovery from intestinal surgery.


Meanwhile, the foreign ministry and official media have reacted on three occasions to news items from, or action taken by, the United States.


“The Commander-in-Chief was right all the time,” journalist Orlando Oramas said in an article published by the newspaper Granma after an official note from the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged that Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro terrorist of Cuban origin, had lied several times about his entry into the United States.


According to the Justice Department, Posada Carriles allegedly committed fraud while seeking naturalisation and lied to immigration authorities about his entry into the United States in March 2005, which could earn him a prison sentence of up to 35 years.


The self-confessed terrorist claimed he had entered the United States overland at a location called Matadores, with the help of a “coyote” (human trafficker), “when we know he entered on board the (ship) Santrina, with four other persons,” the article added. His method of entry, now acknowledged by Washington, had been reported by Castro in April 2005.


Posada Carriles is accused of bombing a Cubana plane with 73 people on board in October 1976. He is a fugitive from Venezuelan justice, and according to his own admission he was responsible for a wave of attacks against the island’s tourism industry in 1997. But the charges he faces in the United States are only violations of immigration regulations.


“The government of the United States often forgets that truth has always been a basic weapon of the Cuban Revolution. Today, nearly two years later, it has had no option but to recognise this,” said a foreign ministry statement on Monday.


Before the statement regarding Posada Carriles, there was an earlier statement by the foreign ministry on Jan. 10 about a decision by U.S. courts to pay out part of Cuban assets “frozen” in U.S. banks as indemnities in response to lawsuits brought by U.S. citizens. This action was taken on Nov. 27, when federal courts decided to pay compensation of 72 million dollars from Cuba’s account to U.S. citizens Janet Ray Weininger and Dorothy Anderson McCarthy, but the Cuban government had not publicly responded until now.


 


According to the foreign ministry, the assets in frozen accounts belonging to the National Bank of Cuba and the Cuban Telecommunications Company, which the island cannot access because of the U.S. Cuban Assets Control Regulations, approved on Jul. 8, 1963, amount to a total of 170.2 million dollars.


The first lawsuit was brought by the daughter of a U.S. pilot alleged to have been “summarily executed” in Cuba in April 1961, during the Bay of Pigs invasion carried out by radical groups of exiled Cubans with the support of the U.S. government of the time.


Havana claims that “he was a pilot who was an aggressor, a CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) agent who was shot down during the invasion, and whose body remained at the Cuban Institute of Legal Medicine until 1979 because the U.S. government concealed his identity.”


In the second case, Cuba alleges that the courts “accepted charges of the supposed torture and extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizen Howard F. Anderson without any proof.” Anderson was condemned to death in 1961 in Cuba for “subversive activities on behalf of the U.S. government and against the Cuban people,” according to the Cuban ministry.


These actions against Cuba “are based on the arbitrary and politicised manipulation of the U.S. government designation of our country as a supposed ‘state sponsor of international terrorism,’ as well as a distorted interpretation of U.S. laws themselves,” the foreign ministry asserted.


“These and similar lawsuits filed in U.S. courts lack validity and legitimacy for Cuba, given that they are based on totally false and manipulated arguments, constituting legal aberrations that can only be accommodated and sustained by the irrational and hostile U.S. government policies toward Cuba,” the statement said.


In a similar vein, on Jan. 5, Havana protested the decision by a Norwegian hotel belonging to the U.S. Hilton Hotels chain to deny lodging to a delegation of 14 Cuban officials, which it said was an extraterritorial application in Europe of the U.S. blockade.


The U.S. Helms-Burton law rules in Europe, said Granma, the official newspaper of the governing Communist Party of Cuba, in an article which resumed a confrontational tone with the United States, and at some level, with European Union countries that take a critical stand on the island’s system of government.


This succession of official Cuban reactions contrast with the quieter second half of 2006, which was however punctuated by the follow-up of the Posada Carriles case and those of five other Cubans in prison in the U.S. accused of espionage, and systematic rejection of the George W. Bush administration’s plan for political transition in Cuba.


Local analysts agree that the cycle of action and reaction prevents any improvement in relations.


Although in late 2006 the island received the largest bipartisan U.S. delegation to visit Cuba in over 40 years, U.S. government officials insist that nothing can change in the two countries’ relations as long as “everything stays the same” under interim president General Raúl Castro, Fidel Castro’s younger brother.


A statement to the people of Cuba, signed by Fidel Castro on Jul. 31, delegated his functions as head of the Council of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces to Raúl, the defence minister. It stressed that this measure was necessary because of the threat posed by the United States.


However, Raúl Castro devoted part of the only press conference he has given since his appointment, and his most important speech as interim president, on Dec. 2 to reiterate Cuba’s willingness “to resolve the long-standing dispute at the negotiating table..”


Cuba’s conditions for a new relationship would be “equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect,” he said. “We are willing to wait patiently for the moment when common sense prevails in the circles of power in Washington,” he added.


“The United States has been influencing Cuban affairs for half a century,” Elizardo Sánchez, president of the illegal Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told IPS.


Sánchez said that wide sectors of the internal dissident movement look on the United States as an ally, a friend, and a force that backs them now and will continue to back them in a “post-Castro era.”


“The vast majority look on the United States with hope; sometimes, I think, with too much hope,” the dissident said. (Copyright IPS)