With the arrests and convictions of 75 Cuban dissidents and the execution of three men who attempted to hijack a ferry, the Castro and Bush regimes both got what they wanted.Fidel Castro effectively put the kibosh on a pro-democracy movement that in recent years had been quietly expanding civil society, and thereby threatening the supremacy of his one-party dictatorship. The crackdown gives President Bush the cover he needs to further tighten the screws on that impoverished nation through stricter limits on travel or cash remittances from Cubans in the United States to friends and relatives on the island, winning him points with the Republican right and the more rabid members of Florida’s Cuban exile community.The American response will provide Castro with the cover he needs to further quell dissent. Were the economic blockade and the threat of U.S. intervention removed, the rationale for maintaining Cuba’s police state would dissolve, causing real instability.The Cuban crackdown, the largest in a decade, was precipitated by James Cason, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, who has been traveling the island talking to and providing material support to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement. Néstor Baguer, a Cuban agent who had posed as a dissident journalist, speaking on a tape shown by the Cuban government and borrowing the language of Washington, characterized members of Cuba’s independent press that Cason had met with this way: “They are not journalists, they are information terrorists.”By becoming entwined with the Castro opposition, Cason was following the Bush administration policy of providing direct aid to Cuban dissidents. Through guilt by association, this had the effect of making the dissidents look like U.S. agents. In a press release issued by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Larry Birns and Matthew Wald write: “Cason, following a script drafted in Washington by such administration hard-line ideologues as Otto Reich, threw Castro a double-play ball disguised as a home run pitch, and Castro foolishly swung at it.”Last May, former President Jimmy Carter warned against just such a strategy. He said that the dissidents he met with “expressed deep concerns” that support from America would discredit their efforts. “For them to be connected directly to the U.S. government, or indirectly to the U.S. government, for financing, would damage severely their integrity.”
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.