Castro Grants Ryan's Wish Governor Gets to Bring Home Ailing 7-Year-Old
Thompson, Don, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Don Thompson Daily Herald State Government Writer
HAVANA - An animated, effusive Fidel Castro sent Illinois' delegation home to the Unites States Wednesday with a diplomatic plum for Gov. George Ryan - and a poke in the eye for his harshest critics.
The Cuban leader granted Ryan's request that an ailing boy, 7-year-old Raudel Medina Alfonso, be allowed to fly home with the delegation for a medical evaluation, a request originally made by hard-line U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Then Castro excoriated Helms and outspoken U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, accusing them of endangering another injured child for their own political gain.
Three Illinois doctors who examined 2-year-old Christian Prieto Sideris Wednesday confirmed that nearly four months after he suffered a severe brain injury in a two-story fall, he is getting care in Cuba that exceeds what he might expect in the United States. But he, too, will be allowed to travel to the United States for a medical evaluation within a few weeks.
Diaz-Balart angrily dismissed Castro's charges that he was using the child for political gain. "I couldn't care less what that decrepit tyrant says. I do care what happens to that child."
Still, he complained bitterly about Cuba's medical system.
"What's significant about this is the medical apartheid in Cuba. It doesn't get written about. I don't know why they don't write about it," Diaz-Balart said of foreign journalists. "Perhaps they fear being expelled. Unless you're a foreigner, you can't go to a pharmacy and get a prescription for your child."
Despite Castro's vehement personal condemnation of Helms, Ryan suggested Alfonso's medical examination was expedited in a calculated effort to win favor with the Senate foreign relations committee chairman, who sponsored a 1996 law that helped tighten the embargo around Cuba. Alfonso has a potentially fatal disease called portal hypertension.
Ryan dismissed a suggestion Wednesday by the U.S. State Department that he shouldn't have met with Castro, or should have been tougher on the Communist leader.
"We prefer that there not be a lot of high-level contact with Castro so long as he refuses to lift his embargo on the Cuban people," said State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin. "But if people are going to go, as a practical matter, we think it's better to encourage them to focus on human rights."
Ryan said neither the State Department nor the U.S. ambassador to Cuba asked him not to meet with Castro: "Had I been, I wouldn't have gone; the delegation wouldn't have gone."
In what amounted to an odd foreign-and-domestic policy address by a state governor caught up in an international debate, Ryan chastised those who would tell Cubans who should lead them or how they should conduct their affairs.
"My heart and my mind tell me those issues are issues for the Cuban people to decide. You will determine your destiny," Ryan told Castro, other top Cuban leaders, and students during an address at the University of Havana. …