ZNet | Central America & Caribbean

Building a prison and preaching democracy

by Jane Franklin; Monday, June 07, 2004

On the one small piece of Cuban territory occupied by U.S. military forces--the Naval Base at Guantanamo, the Bush Administration has created a prison that has become notorious around the world. Yet President Bush insists that he will bring democracy and freedom to the rest of Cuba.


More and more evidence of torture by U.S. forces of prisoners held at Guantanamo is emerging, including reports from five Britons who have been released. Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld himself okayed Major General Geoffrey Miller's list of "nondoctrinal" interrogation methods for use on prisoners at Guantanamo, who are held with no legal rights at all. Then General Miller sent interrogation teams from Guantanamo to train teams at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.


Meanwhile, back at the White House, President Bush has received a lengthy report from his Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, chaired by Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to this new plan for control of Cuba, the Bush Administration would spend $59 million on trying to implement regime change.


Of this, the largest amount, $36 million, would go for paying so-called dissidents to foment opposition that the White House hopes would lead to the overthrow of the Cuban Government.


Another $18 million would pay for flying C-130 planes along the Cuban coast to broadcast TV and Radio Marti to Cubans. Supposedly these C-130s would stay in international airspace 12 miles off the coast, never straying into Cuban territory. There are different types of C-130s. The EC-130 is electronically equipped. The AC-130 is armed with devastating firepower; it is one of the most terrifying weapons being used on Iraq. Cubans could never be sure that the EC-130 would not turn out to be an AC- 130. This serious provocation could lead to disaster.


The remaining $5 million would finance efforts--otherwise known as bribery--to get officials from other countries involved in the campaign for overthrowing the government of Cuba.


In addition, the Bush White House is catering to right-wing Cuban Americans like Florida Republican Representatives Ileana Ros- Lehtinin and Lincoln Diaz-Balart who lobby for no contact at all between Cuban Americans and Cubans on the island. Family visits by Cuban Americans would be reduced from once a year to once every three years. Moreover, the Cuban family would be redefined to exclude relatives like aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.


Visits and remittances would not be legal for those non-family relatives.


As for the rest of the citizens of the United States, travel to Cuba is becoming nearly impossible. The Bush Administration has already terminated people-to-people exchanges. Now most academic visits would be eliminated. Short university programs would be allowed only if the program "directly supports U.S. foreign policy goals." In other words, the academic course would have to institute thought control and agree to an agenda of regime change in Cuba.


Perhaps most startling, the new rules would brazenly violate U.S. citizens' right to travel, as established by the Supreme Court in 1958, by forcing fully-hosted travelers to be licensed.


Previously, travel restrictions have gotten around our right to travel by relying on the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 that outlaws economic transactions with foreign countries or foreign nationals during time of war or national emergency. The "national emergency" that is supposedly pertinent to these regulations was declared over half a century ago, in 1950, at the time of the Korean War. In fully-hosted travel, Cuba invites the guest and pays all expenses; no money is exchanged; therefore, no license has been required. Forcing fully-hosted travelers to get a license is a direct Constitutional challenge, clearly part of an effort by the Bush White House that goes beyond the issue of Cuba: this Administration is testing how far they will be allowed to go in violating the rights of U.S. citizens.


Resistance to these draconian measures is building. In Miami 400 Cuban Americans turned out for a press conference to protest, giving birth to a new movement for family rights. Prominent U.S. businesspeople and political leaders have sent an open letter to President Bush calling for lifting all restrictions on humanitarian trade and travel to Cuba. A bipartisan group of Congressional Representatives sent a letter to Bush with recommendations for improving relations with Cuba, including an end to travel restrictions. In July, Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade and the African Awareness Association together will challenge the travel ban by going to Cuba without asking permission. Bush may find that he has launched a boomerang.


Historian Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History.

E-mail Jane Franklin: janefranklin@hotmail.com