In exposés revealing President Bush’s fabrications of Iraq’s uranium purchases and Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda, the mainstream U.S. media is finally sounding alarms that progressive analysts have been ringing for a long time: the White House repeatedly has invented national security threats to justify its interventionist agenda abroad. However, the uproar over the ersatz security threat coming from Iraq has yet to generate widespread debate over the many other false scenarios Washington has cooked up, such as the alleged terrorist menace posed by Cuba. Washington has assiduously stretched the “war on terror” concept to reassert a 21st-century basis for dominance in Latin America. While entirely ignoring Havana’s request that U.S. officials address well-documented instances of Miami-based Cuban-American terrorist activities, Washington has simultaneously concocted a story about Havana promoting a bioterrorism threat against the U.S. The dynamics of this duplicitous policy demonstrate the specious nature of the administration’s “war on terrorism.”
As a signatory of numerous international anti-terrorist treaties, Washington has an indisputable obligation to prevent terrorist attacks launched from U.S. soil. However, it has pointedly ignored Havana’s pleas to curtail the Miami-based violence aimed at the island since the revolution of 1959. U.S.-based Cuban exile groups have harassed, wounded and at times murdered Cubans, including diplomats, employing terrorist tactics such as car and airplane bombings. Due to U.S. inaction, these attacks have continued into the present era. Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile who claimed responsibility for organizing a 1997 string of bombings of Cuban hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs, in which innocent civilians were killed, summed up the situation in a New York Times interview: "As you can see," he said, "the FBI and the CIA don't bother me, and I am neutral with them."
Washington also has allowed convicted anti-Castro terrorists such as Orlando Bosch, Virgilio Paz, and Jose Dionisio Suarez to walk free and to continue preaching their message of violence in the U.S. Furthermore, the Bush administration has demonstrated its tolerance of Miami-based terrorism by slamming down on five pro-Castro Cuban anti-terrorist monitors who were sentenced to maximum prison terms following ill-founded and highly controversial conspiracy convictions imposed by a Miami federal court in 2001.
Washington’s war on terror grows even more contradictory in light of the deceptive terrorist accusations made against Havana in order to maintain the island on the U.S. State Department’s list of state-sponsored terrorist countries—alongside Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan—and thus to counter waning domestic support for Washington’s travel and trade embargo policies against the island.
Close allies as well as U.S. legislators reject the Bush administration’s portrayal of Cuba as a terrorist threat. “We are not in agreement with the U.S. view that Cuba sponsors terrorism,” said British Energy Minister Brian Wilson in Havana last October. Nor has the UN ever accused Cuba of violating any of its 12 counterterrorism accords, all of which Cuba voluntarily signed. “It is outrageous that they include Cuba only for political reasons,” said U.S. Congressman James McGovern (D-Mass.), requesting last March that Secretary of State Powell remove Cuba from the list.
Bush administration ideological extremists such as Undersecretary for Arms Control John Bolton justify Cuba’s alleged terrorist status with the claim that Havana’s biomedical and pharmaceutical industries are capable of using their medical research to promote bioterrorist projects and by accusing Castro of granting residence to Colombian insurgents, Basque separatists and Chilean terrorists.
While Bolton continues to use his bogus biological weapons argument before rightwing audiences to rally anti-Castro sentiment, he declined a request to substantiate his claims before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, presumably because he lacked credible evidence to back his charges. Washington’s accusations against Cuba rely on the fact that its biotech industry could produce bioweapons, not on any evidence that it has. As Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "we didn't say it actually has some weapons but that it has the capacity and capability to conduct such research." In a House debate, Rep. McGovern pointed out that this capacity is shared by "every single country in the world that produces aspirin."
Despite the accusation that Cuba harbors terrorists from Colombia, Spain, and Chile, clarifications issued by officials of these governments undermine Washington’s attempts to contrive evidence of such a role for the island. Bogotá verified that the Colombian insurgents’ presence in Cuba was part of a peace-process dialogue between the Colombian government and representatives of the country’s leftist guerrillas. Spanish officials confirm that under Prime Minister Felipe González, Madrid exiled ETA members to Cuba who had agreed to discontinue their terrorist activities in a quid pro quo agreement that also involved the release of prisoners held by ETA forces. After traveling to Cuba last February, Chilean investigators determined that Cuba had not harbored any terrorists from their country.
Washington persists with its far-fetched charges because labeling Cuba as a terrorist country allows the U.S. to exercise leverage over Cuba’s exports of potentially “dual use” items such as medical technology, as well as to restrict Cuba from contracting various international loans. Accusing Cuba of terrorism thus allows Washington to tighten its embargo—a vindictive policy opposed by bipartisan Cuba Working Groups in both the Senate and the House.
Aware that the Bush administration has declared itself to be unilaterally prepared not only to eliminate perceived terrorist threats, but also to “free” so-called “oppressed peoples” from their “repressive” governments, both U.S. and Cuban analysts have expressed concerns about a potential U.S. “regime change” initiative against Havana. Their fears seem well founded: on July 18, President Bush blithely placed Cuba on a list of governments that he alleges are the “most oppressive.” In the same vein, U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic Hans Hertell, a political appointee, ominously asserted that “the war in Iraq was aimed at all countries around the world with oppressive political systems…it's a very good example for Cuba.”
Alana Y. Price is a Research Associate with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being one of the nations most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.