By CHRISTOPHER MARQUIS | New York Times
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell criticized Cuba today as an “aberration in the Western Hemisphere” and said the administration is studying ways to respond to the Havana government’s recent crackdown on its critics.
“We’re reviewing all of our policies and our approach toward Cuba in light of what I think is a deteriorating human rights situation,” Mr. Powell told reporters after a meeting with the Jordanian foreign minister.
In recent weeks, a growing number of longtime advocates of greater engagement with Cuba have voiced dismay at President Fidel Castro’s actions, including jailing about 75 government critics and human rights advocates and executing three men who hijacked a ferry to try to reach the United States.
“This is disastrous,” said Pamela Falk, a professor of international law who has worked to increase cultural visits to Cuba and expand sales of American grain there. “Castro and the government of Cuba have managed to alienate any allies they had.”
Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a Missouri Republican who has been at the forefront of opening Cuba to agricultural sales, said she was “appalled and outraged” at the recent executions and jailings.
“My colleagues in Congress and those in the agricultural community deeply believe that exporting our food is good policy for the Cuban people,” Ms. Emerson said. “But unless the Cuban regime reverses course, peaceful political and economic change in Cuba will be impossible to achieve.”
The entire board of directors of one pro-engagement organization, the Cuba Policy Group, resigned last week in protest. Brian Alexander, the former executive director of the foundation, said some board members were distressed that some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents were included in the roundup.
“Every person who has gone to Cuba in recent months probably now knows a political prisoner,” he said. “That takes it to a personal level.”
Mr. Castro has defended his actions, saying the executions were necessary to curtail a wave of hijacking. In a speech on Friday, he said it was necessary to imprison dissidents to keep James C. Cason, the chief of the American diplomatic mission in Havana, from stirring up antigovernment protests.