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Posted July 31, 2003 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By Les Kjos | UPI

MIAMI, July 30 (UPI)—Cuban politics around the world has always been a tangle, and now it seems to be unraveling and tangling again.

It’s happening in Cuba itself, in Europe and in the United States.

In Cuba, President Fidel Castro is renouncing Europe’s decision to diminish relations with the island nation after years of support. Europe fell out of favor by deploring Castro’s crackdown on dissidents and execution of three men for an attempted hijacking.

And in south Florida, an unmistakable rift is developing between the Cuban exile community—always a comfortable voting bloc for the Republicans—and the Bush administration. And the Democrats are ready to take advantage of it.

Castro delivered a 70-minute speech Saturday night, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the unsuccessful assault on the Moncado military barracks by a rebel band led by Castro.

The speech did not contain as much invective against the United States as usual, but that was probably because he was preoccupied with the European Union.

The EU downgraded relations with Cuba in June as a result of Castro’s recent actions. It limited high-level government visits and cut back participation in Cuban cultural events.

Cuba had tried to join an aid pact known as the Cotonou Agreement, but the European governments blocked it. Cuban dissidents were invited to embassy functions in Havana.

Castro started in on Italy and Spain, calling their leaders “fascists” and then turned it loose on the entire union Saturday night.

“They are full of hatred against Cuba. They don’t forgive that we have demonstrated that socialism is a thousand times more humane than the rotten system which they have adopted,” Castro said.

“The Cuban government, out of a basic feeling of dignity, rejects any humanitarian aid, or remaining aid, that may be offered by the governments of the European Union,” Castro said.

“Our country will only accept aid, however modest it may be, from local and regional groups, non-governmental organizations and solidarity movements, which don’t impose any political conditions on Cuba,” Castro said.

The European Union provides nearly half of the 1.7 million tourists who visit the island and has provided about $167 million to Cuba in the last decade, the most of any contributor.

The European Commission met the day after Castro’s speech and said it would continue to help Cuba. It said it had not received any formal notification of Castro’s statement.

“The European Commission wishes to stress ... its commitment to continue supporting the Cuban people and in particular those most in need,” the commission said.

In Miami, Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, said he expects there to be plenty of need. Garcia and many analysts believe the Cuban economy is on the brink of collapse.

“He is a guy preparing himself for a very, very long winter and perhaps his own demise,” Garcia said. “This could be the Cambodiazation of Cuba. He is cutting off all the links to his own support.”

Garcia said two weeks ago, Castro was calling President Bush and his administration “Nazis and thugs. This week he’s reserving his rhetoric for his friends. The big difference is that the Europeans invest millions of dollars.

“They are getting screwed. He’s telling them they are, and they know it,” Garcia said.

But Garcia has his own issues closer to home.

In Miami, the Cubans are mad at Cubans and those Cubans are mad at other Cubans. And every last one of them is mad at Bush.

The flap is the result of the administration’s decision two weeks ago to send a dozen hijackers and three security guard victims back to Cuba after they were stopped a sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. The hijackers were guaranteed prison sentences of no more than 10 years if they were returned.

Last week the founder of the Brothers to the Rescue organization said he and other members have resigned the Republican Party and are now independent.

“We’re becoming noncommittal,” said Jose Basulto, certainly not the most influential Cuban exile in Miami, but one of the most visible.

“I believe the United States has committed an un-American act under the George W. Bush administration by sending our compatriots back to Cuba, a country where there is state terrorism, and where they do not respect any human rights,” Basulto said.

Then on Monday, the Cuban America Foundation denounced south Florida’s three Cuban-American House members, all Republicans, as “impotent” when it came to influencing the White House.

“There comes a point where you cannot sit at the table when everything is cutting against you,” Garcia said.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, speaking for Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, sent a statement to the Miami Herald that accused foundation leaders as “remnants of an organization that had once been on our side, but now has become part of the coalition working to weaken U.S. opposition to the dictatorship in Cuba.”

The Democrats are paying attention.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for president, was in Miami this week knocking the sending of the 12 Cubans back.

“This was a setback for America’s best values,” Lieberman said at a news conference Tuesday. “For the U.S. government to negotiate a jail sentence for these people with a repressive regime that we know does not have fair trials is simply outrageous.”

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, another Democratic candidate, says the return of the Cubans was wrong and a reversal of policy, and the others can be expected to pipe up any day now.

Things are changing everywhere, but Castro is still the president and he looks healthy and as vigorous as ever at age 76 despite his fainting spell during a speech in the sun two years ago.

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