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Castro, Human Rights and Latin Anti-Americanism By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 21, 2003


Recently, following a pattern understood by all but American liberals, Fidel Castro again did something he always does in response to U.S. efforts to improve relations with Cuba. He answered renewed congressional efforts to weaken the embargo by cracking down on the opposition. In the past, when then-President Jimmy Carter tried to improve ties, we wound up with the Mariel exodus and the emptying of Cuba's jails through migration to the U.S.; when Bill Clinton tried to improve relations, it ended up with American citizens being blown out of the skies  by Castro's fighter planes and yet another mass send-off to Florida. This time, when a combination of greedy Republicans from farm states and leftist Democrats tried to weaken the embargo in the name of free trade, Castro answered by jailing 79 dissidents for sentences totaling over 2,000 years.

Even the communist, Portuguese José Saramago, Nobel laureate in Literature and supporter of any leftist cause this side of the Milky Way, declared in an interview with Spain's El Pais that "This is my limit." ("Saramago critica ejecuciones en Cuba," AP, April 14). This reminds one of the late 1960s, when Castro's Stalin-like purges of intellectuals forced Jean-Paul Sartre, another lifelong fellow traveler, to reach his limit with Fidel. And Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch, whose goal seems to be indirectly helping the Marxist-Leninist terrorists/drug traffickers of Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) by blasting every effort of that country's democratic government to fight FARC, also seems to have seen the light. He criticized the UN Human Rights Commission's proposed resolution condemning Castro's persecution of dissidents and demanding that they be released as "weak . . . a slap on the wrist."

Those conversions, along with the fact that the UN resolution was submitted by Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Peru, are the good news from a UN organization now improbably chaired by Libya. Costa Rica aside, the Latin sponsors have paid heavy prices in fighting and defeating Marxist-Leninist insurgencies over the past few decades. They know what communism is, does, and may lead to.

There is another, less symbolic but darker side to the issue. Argentine president Eduardo Duhalde, a lame duck but nonetheless representative of his people's feelings, declared that Argentina will abstain from voting on the Resolution, calling the timing of the vote "inopportune" given the "unilateral war [in Iraq] that has violated human rights." Brazil will also abstain and in Mexico some 50 leftist intellectuals and the majority in the Mexican Congress have asked President Vicente Fox to abstain as well. They could not bring themselves to support Havana, but, again using Iraq as a pretext, claimed that abstention is the best way to deal with Castro. As Mexico's human rights ombudsman stated, regretfully, "only poor countries are condemned" and thus, in his logic, condemning Cuba is unfair - in effect asking for some kind of proportional condemnation, regardless of  realities.

Ultimately it comes down to fundamental differences among the Latin countries. The politics of most of the larger of them vis-à-vis the United States are adolescent, based on the desire to demonstrate independence from Washington. Nowhere is this more evident than in Mexico. To support the U.S. position on any matter, from the treatment of rocks on Mars to dissidents in Cuba, is politically dangerous, opening a leader to accusations from the intellectual elites of being a "gringo puppet." These elites have a disproportionate, and usually nocive impact on politics. In Brazil those sentiments are enhanced by most Brazilians' emotional belief that their country, by virtue of its size and relative economic power, is entitled to a leading role that Washington unfairly challenges.

It was the very same adolescent politics that led the left-of-center governments of Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela to recently refuse to do the obvious, common-sense thing: to declare as terrorists the three irregular forces-FARC, the smaller, also communist National Liberation Army (ELN), and the anti-communists of the United Self-Defense of Colombia (AUC)-that are trying to destroy or avoid the democratic government of neighboring Colombia. They refused to do so despite the fact that FARC at least, and certainly soon enough the AUC, which is hunting them, operates across the borders in Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, and especially Venezuela, whose government is openly supportive of the insurgents.

In the case of Mexico, which has a seat in the UN Security Council (likely to the chagrin of President Fox), not supporting the U.S. approach to the Iraq issue was not a foreign policy or national interest issue, but one of national identity. Supporting the United States is a "sell out to the gringos." Teenagers of the world, unite!

In Chile, the most rational and pragmatic country in Latin America and certainly the most successful in economic, free-market terms, the story is the same, and equally depressing. President Lagos, a Socialist leading a coalition with the Christian Democrats, had never behaved as a socialist in either economic or political terms until Iraq, when he had Chile withhold support for the United States in the Security Council. Why? Because of anti-Americanism. It does not cost much, it is popular-especially in a country where hating capitalism and the United States is still popular among elites and the small (3 percent in the last elections) but organizationally effective Communist Party. Likewise with enthusiastically supporting whatever Havana does. Furthermore, Santiago, like Ciudad de Mexico, Brasilia, and Buenos Aires, still has difficulty understanding that Washington is less tolerant of adolescent games now than prior to 9/11. When President Bush stated that "those who are not with us are against us" in the war on terror, most Latins did not take it seriously. They may well have to now.

Ultimately, abstaining on or voting against a largely meaningless UN criticism of Cuba is itself irrelevant. However, a combined accumulation of Latin American positions suggests that when it comes to choosing between the obvious violations of freedom by one of their own (Havana) and supporting anything proposed by the United States, most Latin American governments will choose opposing Washington.

Understanding this, now let's consider both Castro's recent summary execution of thee ferryboat hijackers and the broader issue of how these Latin American attitudes toward U.S. global positions will affect their U.S. relations.
On the first issue, there is only one thing to say: a hijacker is a hijacker, period. As for capital punishment, it remains what it always was - a matter of political culture. Latins are fast to condemn US executions, especially when they involve their own citizens, but have little or nothing to say when Castro sentences people to death.

As to the price Latin America will pay, some sort of price for their recent behavior? Mexico is clearly doing its best to diminish, if not destroy, whatever support there was in Congress for the legalization of millions of its nationals living illegally in the United States. Chile was a legitimate applicant for NAFTA membership and possessed all the right social, economic, and political credentials, but it has how raised questions about its belonging there. Instead of facing Congressional opposition only from U.S. Democrats opposed to free trade, it will also now face opposition from Republicans, whether they are for or against free markets.

Washington must make clear that being "anti-gringo" just on principle cannot continue in the age of international terrorism. Behavior should cost in terms of how many benefits one can expect to continue from Washington. Opposing the United States on matters of American security should have a cost in that regard, and Washington should impose it. Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina should be convinced that the cost is real and immediate.

Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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