Skip to comments.Castro's behavior baffles analysts ''.....common objective - Cuba's democratic transition,''
Posted on 06/24/2003 1:49:52 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
Three months after Cuban President Fidel Castro launched his harshest crackdown on dissidents in decades, there's still no agreement on what drove him to take such steps and then lash out at valuable European allies that criticized him.
Fear that dissent had escalated into a real threat? A fit of pique by a grumpy old man? An attempt to tighten controls on society as the island's economy tumbles?
Some foreign analysts profess to be baffled by Castro's decision to silence dissent and blast European allies that are Cuba's most loyal sources of trade and tourism.
''His behavior since the March crackdown has been abominable on a moral level, and more recently against the Europeans, inexplicable,'' said Brian Latell, a retired CIA top analyst on Cuba and Castro.
Over the past two weeks, Castro staged massive protest marches past the Spanish and Italian embassies in Havana, announced the takeover of a Spanish cultural center in the capital and insulted European leaders in language he generally reserves for enemies in the United States.
But some analysts believe the crackdown was Castro's only way to deal with a growing and increasingly defiant dissident movement receiving increasing support from the Bush administration and recognition from other governments.
''I guess that the Cuban government has concluded that the best response to dissidents is forceful defense of its sovereignty,'' said Geoff Thale, a Cuba specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, a liberal think tank.
''Clearly, they are in a battle of public opinion. They have raised the specter of U.S. aggression to change the subject, to shift the focus back to U.S. aggression instead of internal behavior,'' Thale added.
Latell blamed Castro's behavior more on his age, 76, and signs of deteriorating health such as a fainting episode two years ago in Havana and another reported -- but never confirmed -- brief collapse last month during a visit to Argentina.
''He's clearly physically and mentally impaired,'' Latell said, adding that other incidents such as losing his train of thought or becoming incoherent during long speeches ``leads to very informed, appropriate speculation about the current quality of his leadership.''
''Either Castro has become totally irrational or his calculation is that this threat is so great, it requires this kind of crackdown against the dissidents and the Europeans'' added Latell, who now oversees the Central America and Caribbean program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Many analysts agree that the dissident movement that began to blossom in the mid-'90s reached a threatening level for the regime with the public unveiling in 2002 of the Varela Project, a grass-roots initiative that seeks sweeping democratic reforms through a referendum.
Other dissidents at the same time grew bolder, issuing statements to the foreign press, creating new organizations, dispatching independent news reports abroad and meeting openly with U.S. diplomats in Havana.
All that came to an abrupt halt in April, when 75 peaceful dissidents were sentenced to between six and 28 years in prison on charges of conspiring with American diplomats to undermine the socialist system, and three men who tried to hijack a ferry to Florida were executed by firing squad.
The arrests and executions spurred a barrage of protests from around the world, including a European Union decision to limit bilateral high-level government visits and foster closer EU relations with dissidents on the island.
Castro responded with a ferocious outburst, calling the EU leadership ''fascists'' and ''bandits'' and saying that Europe's duty ''is to keep its mouth shut because the dumb cannot speak,'' according to the June 13 English edition of Granma, the Communist Party daily.
A senior State Department official said that while the department has reached no firm conclusions to explain Castro's behavior, the U.S. focus now is on how the global community should respond.
''We already share a common objective -- Cuba's democratic transition,'' the official said. ''What we want to pursue now, is a compatibility'' of policies and tactics. Among the issues that American and European officials will examine at a ministerial-level summit this week, he added, are ways that respective Cuba policies can ``complement each other in a more direct way.
''We have been very encouraged by [the EU's] statements,'' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ``We would hope that there would be not just strong words, but action.''
Ramón Colás, a former political prisoner who lives in Miami, said Castro's verbal attacks on Europe were designed to create an atmosphere of crisis within the island that would rally Cubans to support his 44-year-old revolution. ''He creates a crisis when one doesn't exist because it is during conflict that Castro is at his strongest,'' Colás said in a telephone interview. ``All this is for internal consumption. He is depicting himself as a victim.''
But even if Castro's succeeds in portraying the EU as his enemy, he will still face the widespread discontent among Cubans fueled by a tumbling economy that is pushing already difficult lives to the brink of the unbearable.
Past economic crises have led to a familiar cycle of migration crises such as the massive rafter exodus in 1994, increased internal opposition, more fierce diplomatic exchanges and yet more crackdowns on dissent.
''These latest actions indicate, very eloquently, that the Cuban government, rather than resolving the many problems in our country in a civilized manner, prefers to close the doors and its ears,'' said Elizardo Sánchez, longtime human-rights activist in Havana.
''I suppose that the [Cuban] intellectual community must be very worried, as well as the political class. But nobody says a word purely out of fear,'' Sánchez said in a telephone interview.
''My concern is that the government is willing to take our country to a position of complete isolation. Why? To govern with more comfort,'' he added. ``Dictatorships, in that way, don't have to respond to calls of universal conscience.''
Blanca Reyes said her husband's defense attorney told her Monday that her husband's appeal had been rejected by the Supreme Tribunal, the island's court of last resort.
''I always thought that this would be the unfair decision,'' Reyes said after receiving a copy of the ruling. The tribunal also upheld the 20-year sentence of fellow independent journalist Ricardo González, who was tried with Rivero.
Among other prominent opponents of the government whose convictions were upheld Monday were Oscar Espinosa Chepe (20 years), Martha Beatriz Roque (20 years), Héctor Palacios (25 years) and Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés (18 years), according to AFP.
A large number of the 75 sentences have been appealed, and so far all have been upheld by Cuba's high court. Rivero is among the best known of the defendants, particularly among press groups in the region, and has written for several American newspapers.
Cuban prosecutors accused the independent journalists, opposition party leaders, democracy activists and other dissidents of working with and receiving money from the U.S. government to undermine Fidel Castro's communist government. The activists and American officials have denied the charges.
The arrests and heavy prison terms, ranging from six to 28 years, have been condemned by governments and rights organization around the globe. The Cuban government, meanwhile, has defended the crackdown as a necessary defense against U.S. attempts to change the island's socialist system.
Reyes said she has not given up on her husband's case and is working to gather evidence that none of the money that Rivero received for his work came from the U.S. government.
''I am now planning to revise the ruling, and call all the newspapers that Raúl worked for to ask them they where they got their money from, how much they paid Raúl for this work,'' Reyes said.
During their trial, prosecutors insisted that Rivero and González -- editor of an independent magazine that published only two monthly issues -- were being financed by the Washington through the U.S. Interests Section. [End]
Good post. Thank you. Why don´t they just come out and say the "stroke" word?
No way, speedy. Noriega isn't called cara de piña (pineapple face) for nothing. I would go so far as to say Noriega's face is much, much worse than the outer part of the pineapple except the pineapple was the only fruit that came closest for a comparison.
I hope/pray that the good Lord will soon send this evil and egotistical dictator to his eternal damnation and free the long suffering Cubans...
Thank you for that reminder about the famous "leg infection." Im laughing at myself for having forgotten about that news which was the big buzz at the time. Can you refresh my memory about when that happened? Thanks.
The letter was the first public word about Castro's current illness since Saturday, when he excused himself from a session of the National Assembly, Cuba's unicameral parliament, saying doctors had ordered him to rest after an unspecified injury in his leg. The health of Castro, who is regularly seen in public several times a week, is a constant source of speculation by Cuba watchers. Persistent rumors of ailments -- including prostate cancer, heart troubles, Parkinson's disease and stroke -- have circulated for years.***
Castro, Chavez Attending Brazilian Inauguration - "Jan. 1 is no longer a Cuban monopoly"*** BRASILIA, Brazil - Cuban leader Fidel Castro arrived Tuesday in Brazil to attend the inauguration of Luiz Inacio da Silva, the country's first leftist president in 40 years. Castro, dressed in trademark green uniform, was driven in a motorcade to a Brasilia hotel amid tight security. "I am happy to be in Brazil, and happy to say that Jan. 1 is no longer a Cuban monopoly," Castro told reporters. Jan. 1 is the anniversary of the Cuban revolution that brought Castro to power. A serious leg infection kept Castro out of sight in Cuba for nearly two weeks in December, but he showed no difficulty walking as he entered the hotel.***