Washington steps up pressure on Cuba

Overcoming international isolation has long been a top priority for the Cuban revolution. The stakes are high, because international ties are essential for the nation’s economic survival, especially since the fall of the Soviet bloc.

For some nations, coolness toward Cuba may be a low-cost way to please Washington. A year ago, several European governments broke cultural and some nongovernmental organization ties with Cuba after 75 so-called dissidents were convicted as paid foreign agents and three hijackers were executed.

On May 3, Mexico and Peru recalled their ambassadors to Cuba, and Mexico expelled the Cuban ambassador. The two governments were reacting to Cuban allegations that Washington was behind their anti-Cuban votes at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on April 15. Mexico was objecting also to recent visits to Mexico by members of the Cuban Communist Party.

Mexico is the only Latin American nation that has never broken diplomatic relations with revolutionary Cuba. But in April 2002, President Fox bent to Washington’s demand that Fidel Castro be pushed out early from a hemispheric summit meeting in Monterey, souring Mexican-Cuban relations. During the past year, however, ties seemed to be on the upswing, with plans in the works for high-level diplomatic exchanges and negotiations over Cuban repayment of debts owed Mexican banks.

Direct U.S. belligerence is also on the rise. Under Secretary of State John Bolton has again charged that Cuba, a biomedical powerhouse, is capable of producing weapons of mass destruction. Such charges have been repeatedly and emphatically denied by Cuba, and were publicly rejected by President Jimmy Carter when he visited Havana in 2002.

Last October, President Bush announced the formation of a “U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.” On May 1, the panel submitted its vision, in 500 pages, for Cuba’s deliverance to the hands of the U.S. government. While the report has not yet been made public, leaks indicate that it calls for “regime change” through intensifying efforts to keep Cuba isolated and backing its internal dissidents.

U.S. animosity toward its island neighbor verges on the irrational. The U.S. Treasury Department assigns over 20 agents to keep U.S. dollars out of Cuba, but only four functionaries to stem the flow of U.S. money to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

On May Day, President Fidel Castro spoke to over a million Cubans in Revolution Square. Cuba, he said, “will be defended with arms when necessary until the last drop of blood.” Who would be so rash as to accuse the Cuban leader of exaggerating the nation’s peril?

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.