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Debate over Cuba's place on terrorism list continues as US restricts diplomats' movements.

WASHINGTON -- The Sept. 11 terror attacks renewed the debate over whether Cuba belongs on a US government list of nations that harbor terrorists, alongside Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, South Korea and Syria.

Several Cuba activists in Washington, including Wayne Smith, a former head of the US Interests Section in Havana during the Carter administration, argued that the United States has gone too far in considering Cuba an enemy and blamed the policy on efforts to woo Cuban-American voters in Florida.

Britain, the United States' chief partner in the war on terror, also has said it wants Cuba removed from the terrorism blacklist. British Energy Minister Brian Wilson praised Fidel Castro's condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks and its offer of the use of its airports and medical personnel.

The State Department, which published its last terrorism report in April, says it keeps Cuba on the terrorist list because it harbors American fugitives and a number of Basque terrorists and has ties to Colombian guerrilla groups, which the United States says have "a permanent presence on the island."

While Castro seemed to invite a reassessment of his government with his words of support after the Sept. 11 attacks, he quickly reverted to his usual attacks on US policy.

He denounced the United States for failing to prosecute those who hijacked Cuban planes and for harboring Cuban-Americans who've plotted to overthrow him, calling them terrorists. He also has condemned the US air campaign in Afghanistan.

The US war on terror and the new worry about biological attacks prompted Cuban-American lawmakers in Congress to renew their claims that Castro's government has offensive biological weapons capability that could be used against the United States.

At an Oct. 24 hearing. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) asked Secretary of State Colin Powell if he was aware that Cuba had sold a "rogue" Middle Eastern state "a shot that could be used for good purposes, but with an additional--a little supplement added to it--can be turned into a biological weapon against our people."

At the same hearing, Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said news reports that two suspected Afghans were arrested in the Cayman Islands after traveling through Cuba and the fact Castro has recently visited Iran were proof that the Cuban government is involved in terrorist activity.

Powell assured the anti-Castro lawmakers that "he'd take another look at our intelligence holdings" regarding Cuba. But he also echoed the argument of those who say Cuba should be dropped from the terror list because it no longer has the capability to harm the United States.

"When I compare the threat that Cuba was to us and to the whole hemisphere some 12, 13 years ago when I was in the Reagan administration and how we fought against that and prevailed over that kind of threat by the election of democracies throughout the region, when I watched the Soviet Union and now Russia just walk away, pull away from Cuba, it is not the same kind of threat that it used to be," Powell said.

However, while Powell was careful to minimize Cuba's threat potential, he agreed to do something the anti-Castro lawmakers had been lobbying the State Department to do for years: restrict the movement of Cuban diplomats in Washington.

On Oct. 19, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker announced that Cubans posted to the Cuban Interests Section cannot travel beyond the highway known as the Beltway that encircles Washington--a distance of about 10 to 15 miles from the city.

Under the old arrangements, the Cubans could travel as far as 25 miles from the White House without notifying the State Department.

The new restrictions match the rules the Cuban government imposes on US diplomats in Havana, Reeker said. He did not explain the timing of the decision. Some officials have said the new restrictions are intended to punish Cuba in the wake of the arrest of a top US intelligence officer on charges of spying for Cuba.
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Author:Radelat, Ana
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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