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Posted May 24, 2003 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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Castro turns on the old Cold War chill

By TRACEY EATON | The Dallas Morning News

HAVANA – Just last fall, a smiling Fidel Castro mingled with American farmers and cuddled up to Minnesota calves at a Havana trade show.
How times have changed.

In April, the Castro government decimated the country’s peaceful dissident movement and executed three hijackers. And since then, the Cuban leader has been on a rant, accusing the United States of trying to impose “Nazi-fascist tyranny” on the world.

Bush administration officials say Mr. Castro is the tyrant, and they are pushing for a quick end to his 44-year reign. But some Cuban-American exiles aren’t satisfied, saying that the only answer is extreme measures, maybe even military force.

All this dramatizes the question: Will the United States and Cuba ever make peace?

Not likely, at least not while Mr. Castro is alive and Washington insists on regime change, many experts say.

The two sides remain hopelessly far apart. There’s little chance of dialogue or reconciliation, analysts say. And that sets up a dangerous scenario. It means that the “Cuba problem” may be solved only through confrontation and perhaps violence just what both nations say they want to avoid.

This bitter grudge match has been going on for decades. Each country blames the other for the current mess.

After executing three men who tried to hijack a ferry to Florida, Cuban officials said they were only trying to ward off U.S. intervention and prevent a crisis of rafters leaving the island. But some analysts believe Mr. Castro deliberately sabotaged efforts to lift economic sanctions.

“Each time the United States appears to be making progress toward normalizing relations, Castro throws a bomb over the fence,” said Brian Alexander, former director of the Cuba Policy Foundation, a nonprofit Washington group that disbanded in protest of the executions.

“There was great hope that some rapprochement was possible. This latest episode confirms once and for all that under Castro’s watch, U.S.-Cuban relations will never improve.”

Others agree.

“Fidel Castro has always needed an enemy to justify repression, and the enemy is the United States,” said Vladimiro Roca, a dissident leader who escaped arrest in March. And it’s been that way for a long time, he said.

In 1958, after dictator Fulgencio Batista’s planes bombed rebels with U.S.-supplied bombs, Mr. Castro sent a private message to his companion, Celia Snchez.

“I have sworn that the Americans will pay very dearly for what they are doing,” the message said. “When this war has ended, a much bigger and greater war will start for me, a war I shall launch against them. I realize that this will be my true destiny.”

Mr. Roca believes Mr. Castro doesn’t want the embargo to end because he would no longer have an adversary and would have no one to blame but himself for the revolution’s failings.

Mr. Castro denies that and says he is only trying to protect Cuba from America’s “Hitler-like government.”

Last month, the U.S. State Department branded Cuba one of the world’s seven state sponsors of terrorism.

After seeing American soldiers sweep through Iraq, many Castro supporters say they’re concerned the United States will invade Cuba. Before a huge outdoor audience on May 1, Mr. Castro recalled that President Bush has vowed to take pre-emptive action against terrorist threats and planned to “uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries.”

U.S. officials call such concerns a smokescreen.

What’s clear is that provoking Mr. Castro and maintaining hostilities have bolstered the anti-Castro camp.

When James Cason, the top American diplomat in Havana, stepped up efforts to aid the political opposition, Mr. Castro reacted with a massive dissident crackdown in March, confirming some exiles’ view that he can’t be dealt with. The fight intensified, and the Bush administration said it would toughen sanctions against Cuba.

“In the end, the real hardliners on both sides are each other’s best friends,” said Steve Temple, a Cuba expert at the World Markets Research Center, a London-based company that publishes global intelligence reports.

Each side “thrives by attacking efforts to promote gradual, peaceful change. But neither ever succeeds in making life better for a single Cuban,” Thomas Oliphant wrote recently in The Boston Globe.

As U.S.-Cuba relations sink deeper into the diplomatic abyss, Castro supporters have become more entrenched.

They also hack away at the growth of independent civic groups, a foundation for democracy. But that fails to prepare the country for the day when Mr. Castro is gone, some say. And it makes the possibility of a peaceful transition remote.

“We’re all convinced that Castro won’t bring about change,” said Ninoska Perez, a spokeswoman for the Cuba Liberty Council, a conservative lobbying group in Miami. U.S. officials “have to do something. It’s not about words anymore.”

American officials are divided in their assessments, but many agree the situation could become volatile.

“The continued disintegration of Cuban society generates instability throughout the region and creates the threat of a mass migration to the United States,” Mr. Cason told a Miami crowd in April. “This undermines our security and the long-term potential for the Cuban nation.”

So the nasty U.S.-Cuba dispute drifts along on political winds.

“It’s come down to a death watch,” Mr. Alexander said.

Castro loyalists scoff at such dire talk and say they want better relations with the United States

“We definitely want to lift the blockade,” retired Cuban diplomat Clinton Adlum said. “We badly need an atmosphere of peace, where people can have a normal life.”

But, he warned, neither exiles nor U.S. officials should dictate Cuba’s future.

“They want to stop the construction of socialism and establish what they consider to be a democracy,” he said. “But our concept of democracy is so different that there is no possible reconciliation.”

Marifeli Perez-Stable suggests another path:

“Cubans need to dialogue, starting the day before yesterday,” she said. “Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits are sick of so much hatred.”

Ms. Perez-Stable, a professor at Florida International University, is the leader of a research project called Cuban National Reconciliation. It explores such sensitive issues as dealing with past human rights violations, finding justice for victims and recovering the historical memory of what’s gone on over the years in Cuba.

The project generated excellent response from top Cuba experts, Ms. Perez-Stable said.

E-mails have been pouring into the project’s Web site, [url=http://www.memoria.fiu.edu]http://www.memoria.fiu.edu[/url] And the professor said she expects interest to continue rising as organizers unveil the project in Spain, Canada, New York City and Washington, D.C.

“There is no blanket formula” for reconciliation, she said. And many Cubans may not be ready to make peace. But future U.S.-Cuba relations can’t be based on “anger and revenge.”

Even some ex-political prisoners are ready to forgive. Said Mr. Roca: “I’m willing to reconcile with everyone, including Fidel Castro.”

Others aren’t quite ready for that. There can be no peace unless Mr. Castro admits that “what was done was wrong,” said Ms. Perez, whose husband, Roberto, spent 28 years in Cuban prisons. “The first step in reconciliation is saying you’re sorry.”

Don’t hold your breath, say those who know Mr. Castro. Now 76, the Cuban leader vows to remain in power until his death.

“We will not yield to any pressures,” he said in his May Day speech. “We are prepared to defend our revolution with ideas and with weapons to our last drop of blood.”

Staff Writer Alfredo Corchado in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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