Cuba: Much Anticipated U.S. Retaliation against Cuba for Crackdown Fails to Materialize, Leaving Policy Moves Uncertain

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, June 5, 2003 | Go to article overview

Cuba: Much Anticipated U.S. Retaliation against Cuba for Crackdown Fails to Materialize, Leaving Policy Moves Uncertain


Following the March arrests and trials of US-paid journalists, librarians, and human rights workers (see NotiCen, 2003-04-24), speculation arose that President George W. Bush's administration would apply harsh penalties against Cuba. The much-anticipated announcement of new sanctions or even a military response did not materialize in Bush's May 20 speech leaving hard-liners disappointed and raising questions about the state of Cuba policy.

During an interview with the Argentine newspaper Pagina 12, President Fidel Castro noted that the State Department had warned that airplane hijackings from Cuba would constitute a security threat to the US. That warning and the provocations by US Interests Section chief James Cason were evidence of a "pre-arranged plan" to provoke the hijackings and use them as a justification for aggression against Cuba, Castro said.

However, the hijackings stopped after Cuba executed three men involved in the failed hijacking of a Havana harbor ferry and Cason's unexpected intervention to warn hijackers that they would be prosecuted in the US. If the Bush administration ever had a pre-planned revenge strategy, it was either canceled or withdrawn for further study.

Retaliation so far has taken the form of minor restrictions on Cuban diplomats and the expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats from New York and Washington.

Some call for military intervention

As the crackdown in Cuba unfolded, there were unmistakable although unofficial threats of military retaliation. In April, US Ambassador in the Dominican Republic Hans Hertell said Iraq set "a very good example for Cuba." Larry Klayman, chairman of the conservative Judicial Watch, said that after Saddam Hussein, Castro "should be next on the US and worldwide hit list of dictators overdue for 'regime change.'"

The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which has lately taken a turn toward moderation, appeared swept away by the possibility that Castro's destruction was imminent. Dennis Hays, CANF executive vice president, called for regime change in Cuba. He softened the statement by saying he meant aid to dissidents should be stepped up. However, in the context of the Iraq war, regime change has come to mean a unilateral military operation.

Despite the momentary exhilaration on the right, open calls for intervention were largely confined to the extreme elements in the Miami exile community.

Official Washington was more cautious. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Cuba was not a military target. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, somewhat ambiguously, "It would not be appropriate at this time...to use military force for this particular purpose."

Powell's major initiatives were to announce that a review of Cuba policy was underway and to ask the Organization of American States (OAS) to condemn Cuba. Powell said on April 28 that the OAS should "live up to the ideals we share and take a principled stand for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Cuba."

Canada, Chile, and Uruguay stepped in to produce a statement for the OAS Permanent Council. However, the outcome suggested that the recent changes in Latin American leadership have helped to distance the region from US policy. Brazil and Venezuela opposed the action arguing that, since the US got Cuba kicked out of the OAS in 1962, it was unfair to condemn Cuba in absentia.

Canada, Chile, and Uruguay then backed away and proposed a watered-down version that only expressed concern about the human rights situation in Cuba. Less than half the council members signed the nonbinding document.

The outcome was similar to the vote in the UN Human Rights Commission during the height of the crackdown in April. A US-generated condemnation was rejected in favor of an innocuous resolution that did not mention human rights. That vote passed by only by a slim margin (see NotiCen, 2003-05- 08). …

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