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IRAQ and Cuba

All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There should be, perhaps there is, a book on the history of the world analyzing how leaders start out well and then become infatuated with their power and lose contact with the world. Contemporary history offers many such figures. Mussolini and even Hitler were sane when they started. In Cuba, Batista began as a popular hero. More recently there has been a striking resemblance between Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro. In the days before the Iraq war, Hussein, who was more or less sane when he took power, appeared smiling and smug, almost as much out of touch with reality as his information minister. Fidel Castro does not smile, but he has clearly lost touch with reality. When he seized power he was even more of a hero than Batista was when he came to power. Castro's execution of three ferry boat hijackers and his jailing of a large number of peaceful dissidents are proof of the final corruption of his mind. Following international condemnation of this action, he announced an even harsher crackdown.

What should be the US response? The world is asking, after Iraq, is Syria next? We could ask: Is Cuba next? At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the US Air Force wanted to bomb Cuba as we have bombed Iraq, but President Kennedy avoided such action, which might have triggered a world war. The House International Relations Committee has just held hearings on Cuba. That most of the time only four members of the committee were present suggests that there is not much interest in Cuba. Congressional hearings are one of the best features of the American system, and the hearings on Cuba were especially good. The representatives of many reputable organizations testified, among them the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The world view of Castro is changing. He has completely alienated the hitherto fairly sympathetic European Union. A test case is the meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. A motion to condemn Cuba, which is a member of the commission, was presented by Costa Rica, with the support of the United States and the European Union. Argentina announced it would abstain. The result of the vote, and the position of the various country members should become clear today. Cuba's two-year term is ending, and it seeks reelection, which would deprive the commission of all credibility. The House committee heard testimony condemning the role of Canada, which among other things was blamed for its administration of Cuban nickel mines, the source of dangerous pollution. In Latin America there seems to be the usual hesitation to condemn Cuba in its confrontation with the US.

What will the US do, what should it do? Americans who argue that trade with Cuba would improve the situation seem to have lost credibility. Nothing succeeds like success. Will the US military success in Iraq lead to demands for similar action against Cuba? What was the motivation of the House International Relations Committee in calling these hearings? Its primary aim was to provide a backdrop for the Geneva meeting of the US Human Rights Commission. It clearly wants action, but what action? Cuba may divide American public opinion as Iraq has. In Iraq, the US has failed to prove that it harbored terrorists or that it had WMD, the allegations which justified the US "preventive" action. What reason would be given to justify preventive action against Castro? The Soviet threat can no longer be invoked. Can the US allow the promoters of the admirable Varela Project to remain in jail? Action in the international field is seldom easy.

Ronald Hilton - 4/17/03