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Fidel Castro Is No Osama bin Laden

June 16, 2002|WAYNE S. SMITH | Wayne S. Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, is former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

WASHINGTON -- A cornerstone of the Bush administration's Cuba policy is that Cuba is a terrorist state with hostile intentions toward us. Otherwise, why not engage it as we do China, Vietnam and other nondemocratic states?

The problem is that the administration can't come up with a shred of credible evidence to prove its point. Nor is it above using outright fabrications. For example, the State Department has made much of a speech given by Fidel Castro in Tehran last year in which he supposedly said "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each another, can bring America to its knees."

But as it turns out, Castro never uttered those words. Professor Nelson Valdes of the University of New Mexico has acquired and analyzed all the transcripts of Castro's public statements while in Iran and can attest that there is nothing even resembling such a quote. It is a complete fabrication.

When I was in Havana this month, Cuban foreign ministry officials confirmed that Castro categorically denies making the statement.

The reductio ad absurdum of the effort to label Cuba "a terrorist state" can be found in the State Department's "Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism," issued May 21. Cuba is again included. Why? Well, the State Department claims Castro has "vacillated" on the war against terrorism and has "continued to view terror as a legitimate revolutionary tactic."

But this is patently untrue. Castro has consistently denounced terrorism since Sept. 11, calling for its "total eradication." He immediately condemned the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, expressed solidarity with the American people and offered to cooperate with all governments in the defeat of terrorism. Cuba has signed all 12 U.N. counter-terrorism conventions and early this year offered to sign a bilateral agreement with the U.S. providing for joint efforts against terrorism.

The U.S. declined, thus leaving us with a rather Kafkaesque situation: Cuba offers to cooperate with us in the war against terrorism, the State Department refuses the offer but simultaneously complains that Cuba won't cooperate.

The truth is that the Bush administration doesn't want to sign any agreements with the Cubans and doesn't want to be perceived as cooperating with them because that might offend the hard-line exiles in Florida and lose the president's brother votes in the gubernatorial election.

One can also conclude from State's report on state-sponsored terrorism that no one in the department consults with other governments. The overview claims, for example, that Cuba has provided "some degree of safe haven and support" to members of the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

But in April, the chairman of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Fernando Tapias, told the House Committee on International Relations: "There is no information ... that Cuba is in any way linked to terrorist activities in Colombia. Indeed, Cuban authorities are buttressing the peace movement.... And this is the information that I have from the president and the commissioners."

The May 21 report also mentions Niall Connolly, one of three members of the Irish Republican Army arrested in Colombia on suspicion of providing explosives to the FARC guerrilla group. It notes that he lived a number of years in Cuba. True enough. Last year, the Cuban government said that Connolly had been the representative in Cuba of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. Nothing improper in that. According to the Cubans, Connolly had left Cuba and returned to Ireland some time earlier. Subsequently, he turned up in Colombia. But no evidence has been brought to light suggesting any Cuban connection with his activities in Colombia.

Stretching even further and again ignoring evidence to the contrary, the State Department overview suggests that Cuba may have harbored members of a Chilean terrorist group because it had twice denied Chilean extradition requests, claiming that the wanted persons were not in Cuba. Omitted is that this episode was thoroughly investigated by the Chilean government, which last February sent two Chilean senators to Havana to look into the matter. They returned completely satisfied with Cuban explanations and convinced that Cuba was not harboring any Chilean terrorists.

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