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Posted April 25, 2003 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By TRACI CARL | Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY—Carlos Fuentes called Cuba a “suffocating dictatorship.” Jose Saramago said Fidel Castro “cheated his dreams.”

Shocked at Cuba’s recent crackdown on dissent, many leftist intellectuals and authors find themselves criticizing a government they spent years applauding.

The backlash appears to have caught Cuba off guard and forced officials to defend themselves against not only their foes—but also their longtime friends.

For years, the communist government appeared to be relaxing its tough stance toward critics. Encouraged, even Republican U.S. lawmakers were calling to lift more than four decades of U.S. imposed sanctions.

But that changed earlier this month, when Cuba ordered a firing squad to execute three men accused of terrorism in the unsuccessful hijacking of a ferry full of passengers. The men were trying to get to the United States.

Days before, Cuba sentenced 75 dissidents, many of them independent journalists or directors of independent libraries, to prison terms of up to 28 years. Cuba accused them of working with U.S. diplomats to undermine Castro’s government—a charge the dissidents and the State Department have denied.

The crackdown was condemned around the globe.

Sweden warned the actions could harm Cuba’s prospects for a better relationship with the European Union, while Canada and Italy sent letters of protest to Castro.

But some of the strongest criticism came from Cuba’s supporters, who have stuck by the government’s 44-year rule despite complaints about its human rights record.

“Must they learn the bad habits of the enemy they are fighting?” wrote Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, who once praised Castro as a “symbol of national dignity.”

“The death penalty is never justified, no matter where it is applied.”

Fuentes, a Mexican novelist and longtime Cuba supporter, was even more disillusioned. He lumped Bush and Castro together and declared himself against both. Castro, he said, needs “his American enemy to justify his own failings.”

“As a Mexican, I wish for my country neither the dictates of Washington on foreign policy, nor the Cuban example of a suffocating dictatorship,” he wrote in a letter published in Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper.

He wasn’t alone. Saramago, a Portuguese writer who won the 1998 Nobel Prize for literature and considered himself a close friend of Castro, said Cuba “has lost my confidence, damaged my hopes, cheated my dreams.”

Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who lives part-time in Cuba, has been silent on the issue. But his magazine, Cambio, published an article saying “few other repressive waves have left a government so isolated and rejected.”

The government responded by publishing rebukes in the Communist Party daily Granma.

In one letter published Saturday, a group of well-known Cuban intellectuals urged their colleagues to stop criticizing the island.

Entitled “Message from Havana to our friends in faraway places,” the letter said the recent statements by leftist intellectuals “are being used in the great campaign trying to isolate us and prepare the stage for military aggression by the United States against Cuba.”

Cuba made a similar assertion about several of its Latin American allies earlier this month, calling them U.S. “lackeys” after the nations backed an amendment calling for a U.N. rights monitor to visit the island.

Peru protested the comments by the Cuba’s U.N. delegate, and Nicaragua recalled its envoy from Cuba for consultations.

Still, Cuba has claimed some political victories recently.

The 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission rejected a tougher amendment criticizing Cuba’s dissident crackdown.

Maryland also is sticking with plans to send the Pride of Baltimore II clipper ship to the island to promote the state’s seafood, poultry, pet food, cake mix, juices and spices. The ship is scheduled to arrive at the island on May 24.

But the Bush administration, unhappy about the Cuban action, is contemplating ways to make Castro’s government pay a price. It also has undercut embargo foes on Capitol Hill.

Fuentes warned it will be hard for Castro to bounce back.

The Cuban president, he said, is preparing “the way for his own exit from the world stage in a hail of flames.”

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