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Cuban Bio-Terror: Fact Or State Dept Fabrication?

May 9, 2002 02:11

* The administration is attempting to perpetrate a super hoax on the American public to secure Cuban-American electoral support for the Bush Brothers and blunt the upcoming visit of the Carter delegation to island. Havana's biotechnology industry is grotesquely transformed by administration ideologues into a terrorist menace, reflecting Washington's bio-terror hysteria
* Recent State Department comments by the extremist Cuban-American policymakers indicate a concerted campaign to target Havana by terminating a relatively non-flammable era in U.S.-Cuba relations
* The Bush administration's fluid and amorphous definition of terror poses a credible threat to Cuba and other Latin American nations as it could be used to justify future military interventions
* Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security spins a duplicitous tale that fails to cite a single piece of hard evidence
* Why not ask Castro to allow UN inspection of Cuban laboratories, as part of a broader settlement with Havana?
* Havana offered to discuss terrorism and other subjects of mutual concern months ago was ignored by State Department officials.

Malign Neglect

The Bush administration seems intent on ratcheting up its anti-Castro campaign by launching far-fetched and un-evidenced accusations against Cuba in a maddened frenzy to promote an atmosphere of crisis where none existed before. In fact, as early as several months ago, administration officials initiated the current ploy to create a recipe of chaos and anxiety from scratch. With Secretary of State Powell leasing jurisdiction over Latin American affairs to the ideologues within his department, Otto Reich, the administration's controversial assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, now leads a group of highly directed Cuban-American administration officials intent on fomenting greater hostility between the two nations by the concocting of an atmosphere of near-hysteria.

After U.S. authorities facilitated upwards of $70 million food sales to Havana between December and February 2002, the U.S. at first appeared willing to entertain the notion of a somewhat less hostile working relationship with Havana. This was certainly the hope of Cuban officials who sent a diplomatic message to Washington suggesting to their U.S. counterparts that the food sales could springboard a new round of talks concerning topics of mutual concern, including drugs, terrorism and refugees. However, U.S. officials, after pointedly stating that there would be no change in the status quo, completely ignored this promising initiative.

All evidence points to the scheming Reich as the central figure in the cabal which includes: Lino Gutierrez, Reich's deputy director at the inter-American Affairs, Colonel Emilio Gonzalez, deputy at the National Security Council, Pardo-Maura at the Pentagon, and Jose Cardenas, former director of the Cuban-American National Foundation's Washington office, who now occupies a key staff position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Furthermore, Cuban-Americans, occupying 7 of the 12 most important policymaking posts, are grossly over-represented in the Bush administration when compared to other Latino populations. For example, the Mexican-American population is almost 20 times that of Cuban-Americans, yet their presence is barely seen when it comes to the making of U.S. Latin American policy. Reich's lack of rectitude, highly personalized hatred of Castro, and pathetic banality in his formulation of goals and ways to reach them, made his nomination to the key Latin America policymaking post an awful choice as it destroyed what little credibility the U.S. may have had in the hemisphere. To the danger of all, in Reich's mind, he is a gladiator prepared to vanquish the aged Castro, no matter the price. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's decision to indefinitely delay consideration of Reich's nomination appears increasingly justified.

Axis of Evil Expanded

Although the addition of Cuba to the Bush Administration's "axis of evil" lexicon is entirely arbitrary, it fits perfectly into Reich's well-orchestrated campaign to politically and economically asphyxiate the island in order to create a Castro-less "vision for the future of Cuba." While the ultimate objective of Reich's Cuban-American cabal is to expedite Castro's downfall regardless of its foreseeable long-term costs to a balanced hemispheric policy, the present campaign vilifying Castro has several short-term benefits for the Bush administration. These more immediate goals include overshadowing President Carter's unprecedented trip to Cuba-where he is expected to stress normalization of trade relations-as well as insuring Jeb Bush's reelection in Florida, and continued funding for the national ticket from Miami's well-heeled pockets. >From his desk at the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Reich has made himself the epicenter of what has become a super-charged anti-Castro atmosphere within the Department of State. While Reich's position of authority over Latin American policies affords him the freedom to "creatively pursue the nation's highest priorities in the region," he repeatedly has demonstrated a small-minded incapacity to faithfully carry out such a mission. In fact, his Cold War policymaking approach to Cuba has impaired the pursuit of authentic U.S. regional interests-concerning security, free trade, drugs, terrorism, corruption, poverty, and issues of social justice. Due to his lame portrayal of Castro as the kingpin of the international terrorist threat and coming forth with a stream of other hyperbole-laced perceptions, the administration will be forced to divert attention and resources away from more credible threats and legitimate concerns.

This cabal within the Bush administration has quite successfully dismantled the tolerable, if fallow, dynamics that existenced between the two neighbors for some time and transformed them into a bellicose and confrontational showdown, despite the implicit risk of inadvertently triggering a major military conflict. The most recent tactic employed in the cabal's campaign has been to capitalize on the administration's war on terrorism and the American public's fear of biological warfare to resurrect the Cold War perception of Cuba as a legitimate military threat. Reich and his colleagues have exploited the Bush administration's lack of an operational definition of terrorism to construct their own-changing it on an almost daily basis. Rather than acting with any bona fide national interest in mind, the vendetta politics employed by Reich and his Cuban-American co-conspirators, single-mindedly has advanced the interests of their own narrow anti-Castro agenda at the cost of unbalancing a properly equilibrated view of the hemisphere.

Bolton the Fabricator

The State Department's triumphant invention of a bio-terrorist threat in Havana represents only the most recent facet of the Bush administration's stepped-up and well-coordinated inter-agency campaign to invoke an incendiary era in U.S.-Cuba relations. In addition to the allegations of aiding international terrorism, the administration's posture toward Cuba is becoming increasingly interventionist. However, these accusations and actions, which are meant to further segregate Havana from the mainstream, have in fact served to isolate the Bush administration from U.S. and global public opinion. More importantly, the mind low reactionary nature of the administration's stance is alienating even conservative U.S. political figures as well as commercial interests eager to normalize Cuban-U.S. relations and realize the full potential of such a strategically located market.

Perhaps the most dangerous recent development arises from the unsubstantiated accusations and thinly-veiled threats made by John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Speaking before the rightwing Heritage Foundation, on May 6 Bolton accused Havana's biomedicine industry of concealing a bio-warfare division and then proceeded to threaten any non-compliance by any means, presumably, including military intervention. Moreover, Bolton's comments in several instances directly plagiarized unfounded existing rumors long circulated by well-established anti-Castro ideologues in the Cuban exile community concerning the threat posed by Havana's highly respected biotech infrastructure. From these completely unsubstantiated claims, originally trafficked by a number of highly conservative Cuban-Americans, including Ernesto Betancourt, Manuel Cereijo, Agustin Blazquez, and Prof. Jaime Suchlicki, Bolton scored Havana's alleged bio-terrorist threat. The accusations rely on extremely circumstantial data and anecdotal evidence, and take a quantum leap when they assert that because of its negative putative cash flow, Havana must be supplementing its legitimate income with sales of illicit bio-warfare technology. As reported in the Washington Times, an unnamed senior administration official indicated that the administration remains "constrained" by what it can reveal about the source of the info. The same line that Reich used during the contra war to process outlandish fabrications he was training to vend to the U.S. media.

The Plot

Claiming that the Cuban threat had been "underplayed," Bolton tried to cast Cuba's internationally-applauded biotechnology sector, which accounts for millions of dollars in its export income and substantially contributes to the island's high health standards, as a front for bio-terrorism. But what was particularly minatory in his words were Bolton's allegations that Cuba "has a least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort [and has] provided dual-use technology to other rogue states." Bolton could have accused Cuban baseball pitchers of being potential terrorists because a baseball traveling at high velocity can also be used as a weapon. At the heart of Bolton's remarks was the thinly veiled threat that those nations choosing not to join the Bush administration's global war on terrorism "can expect to become our targets," which was flamboyantly placed on the front page of the virulently anti-Castro Washington Times.

Bolton's shockingly irresponsible remarks, likely to haunt him as long he holds office, grossly overplayed any theoretical threat possibly posed by any "double-usage" of Cuba's biotechnology program. Contrary to the State Department claims, the biotech sales are used as a hard-currency earner as well as to build close ties to other third world nations through strategic donations of products in order to alleviate their medical crises, and in barter arrangements, usually with other Latin American nations. Bolton's crafty attack against Cuba's "well developed and sophisticated biomedical industry," was reduced to a tawdry canard when he failed to authenticate his charge that it conceals a more sinister "offensive biological warfare and research effort." Bolton's inability to cite credible evidence for his dual-use scenario stems from the fact that his bombshell disclosure is part of an initiative driven by a cabal whose inherently fraudulent thesis is motivated by a desire to bust Castro, not to provide objective and accurate information. This was the precise style employed by Reich in the early 1980s, when as the head of the Office of Public Diplomacy, the propaganda headquarters for the Contra war, he was criticized by a number of impartial bodies for his unethical behavior and only narrowly escaped being indicted for violating federal regulations.

Bolton's comments were preceded by those of Roger Noriega, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, who originally had obtained his prominent diplomatic position due to the fact that he was an extremely devoted staff member of frontline anti-Castro stalwart Senator Helms, with an assignment on the Foreign Relations Committee (when Helms was its chairman), as well as being a dutiful servitor of OAS official Luigi Einaudi, who helped him get the ambassadorship. Noriega assailed Cuba as an affront to the entire inter-American community because of the island's absence of democracy. This may be true enough, but strong democratic credentials are not easily found elsewhere in the hemisphere, nor did the U.S. do anything to strengthen them when it failed to adhere to the Inter-American Democratic Charter immediately following the attempted extra-constitutional removal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in April, an event that Noriega and the U.S. endorsed. Noriega, who is much better known as a promoter of his career rather than democracy, alluded to an "inevitable transition to democracy" in Cuba, which hopefully will be more democratic than the U.S.-sanctioned action that nearly deposed the democratically-elected Chavez. Reich's "Review" of U.S.-Cuba Relations

While U.S. military intervention in Cuba cannot be considered a realistic option even by administration fanatics like Reich, the Bush administration, with its heavy-handed Cuban-American contingent, seems much more inclined than previous administrations to at least consider that option or a variant form of it. This could include an increase use of intelligence and exile assets to engage in a more active secret war against the Castro regime.

The administration's de facto conspirators may come to realize that military intervention is not presently feasible, with economic and diplomatic isolation having to be their policy of the day. Currently, the cabal's priority is to increase the economic and political costs that must be borne by Cuban authorities, by maintaining and even further intensifying the embargo. The Treasury Department, acting in coordination with this campaign, has rejected applications from U.S. business groups eager to visit Cuba and exploit its largely untapped market, most notably a recent high-profile agricultural group, which included two former agricultural secretaries.

Open dissent within the administration regarding U.S.-Cuban policy has been virtually eliminated, although a deep unease and shame can be felt along the State Department's corridors over the un-professional actions taken by Reich and his second in command, compatriot Lino Guittierez. Administration officials, unwise enough to test Bush on the issue have been quick to realize that even for its most senior officials this issue is non-negotiable, primarily because of Florida's strategic role in the next presidential election and the importance of the Cuban-American community in the state. When Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, spoke out against the administration's hard-line position prohibiting travel to the island, reaction from the extremist elements of the Cuban-American community was overpowering. Reich countered that "providing economic succor" to Castro's regime would not bring about democracy, but some of his recent fabrications-Cuban snipers assassinating anti-Chavez protesters in Venezuela and Havana deploying four planes to Caracas on some mysterious mission-apparently would.

This analysis was prepared by Alex Volberding, Larry Birns, and Winter Casey, COHA research group.

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 nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policymakers."

For a line by line analysis please refer to the Center for International Policy May 8 press release "CIA Refutes Bolton's Statements on Cuba: Gross Distortion of Reality," at ,


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