September 24, 2002 | Commentary on Latin America
Recent accusations by the U.S. State Department that the Castro regime in Cuba has been uncooperative in the American-led war on terrorism should surprise no one. Fidel Castro has long described himself as an enemy of the United States and his government has aided and abetted terrorists throughout its 43-year history.
The charges were leveled by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Fisk, speaking at the National Press Club on Sept. 17. He alleged that since the terrorist attacks took place last year, monthly tips from Cuban government sources have led U.S. investigators on wild goose chases and provided nothing of value. About what you'd expect from Castro.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque responded that Fisk's characterizations were "false and slanderous … a colossal lie" and that Cuba had even offered assistance that the United States spurned. Some U.S. lawmakers quoted in press accounts scoffed that Castro could never be that disingenuous.
On the surface, it might seem that Pérez Roque has a point. Castro uttered words of condolence after the Sept. 11 attacks, offered to donate 100 million antibiotic tablets just when anthrax-laden letters began to circulate in the U.S. mail, and proposed bilateral accords last March to help fight terrorism, curb drug trafficking in the Caribbean, and update existing U.S.-Cuba migration arrangements.
But expressions of sympathy were soon followed by Castro's usual antagonistic and contradictory speeches. In October he called the U.S. response "worse than the original attacks, militaristic and fascist." In a June rant, he compared President Bush to Hitler and labeled the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham, "an idiot." In July he sent a message of solidarity to Saddam Hussein calling for the United Nations to lift the embargo on Iraq.
Cuba's offer to donate ciprofloxacin and machines designed-according to Pérez Roque-to "screen germs and break up anthrax strains" should have raised questions. Why would someone who once tried to persuade the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear strike on the United States give Americans sophisticated medicine when he won't even stock aspirin in his state-run pharmacies? And what is Castro doing with equipment that manipulates anthrax? Since no answers have been forthcoming, it's a good thing the United States kept to its own supply of cipro.
The bilateral accords Cuba proposed failed to address the regime's policy of harboring more than 70 fugitives from U.S. justice and various terrorists from such groups as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA). As for migratory reform, Cuba has yet to implement existing agreements on family reunification and exit visas. And do we really want to cooperate on terrorism and drug trafficking with the same thugs that jail and torture Cuba's political dissidents?
If there are responsible members of the Cuban government who sincerely want to cooperate with U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, they should do the following. First, curb their leader's schizophrenic bluster and distance themselves from the old dictator's personal obsession with defeating the United States. Next, cut ties with other countries that sponsor terrorism like Iraq, and boot out fugitives and members of terrorist groups. Finally, promote political reforms that would make Cuba's police and border guard accountable to Cuban citizens, and thus worth cooperating with.
In the absence of such action, U.S. officials should remain appropriately skeptical of Cuban offers of cooperation. Before he took power in 1959, Castro wrote that war against the United States was his true calling. Over the next 30 years, even his Soviet sponsors found him scary and intractable. We should still take him at his word.
U.S. lawmakers now eager to minimize Castro's treachery in order to boost prospects for legislation to lift the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo should reacquaint themselves with Castro's record of betrayal, subversion and lies.
Stephen Johnson is Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.