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2004: Cuba Under Threat?

Longtime Cuba-watchers have seen and heard it all before. U.S. accusations, misinformation and fabrications have been levied at the Cuban government for decades. For 45 years, the dedicated citizens of Cuba have struggled to make their own way in the world, resisting the demands of the neighbouring superpower, the IMF and the World Bank. It has never been an easy path, but it was a necessary road to walk in order to maintain Cuba's independence and development goals.

We look ahead to this new year 2004, filled with great hopes and possibilities. Recent months brought news of a new Cuban-developed vaccine that promises to drastically curtail influenza and meningitis among the world's children. Achievements in national health care have cut infant mortality in Cuba to a first-world level 6.3 per 1,000 (equal to or better than most U.S. states). Tourism development has rebounded from the post-9/11 dip, as more Canadians are discovering Cuba, and more Americans are willing to bypass newly-tightened U.S. government restrictions on travel to the island, seeing for themselves a country that is very different than the image constructed in Washington and Miami.

And yet we are uneasy, as the Bush regime continues its unending effort to demonize Cuba. When Havana announced its new vaccine, to be marketed at a fraction of the cost of western pharmaceutical companies' versions, thereby saving developing nations precious resources, Washington responded by trotting out the disproven but - in a time of the "terrorist threat" - hot-button issue of "biological weapons capacity." The innuendo was powerful: if Cuba could create vaccines, it by definition had the capacity to make bio-weapons. The alarm was raised, and Cuba's international image is once again slandered without evidence or reason. This raises unsettling concerns for all developing countries that try to develop indigenous industries in medical research.

On December 2nd, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin American Affairs, John Bolton, reiterated the placement of Cuba on Washington's list of so-called "rogue states" and stated clearly that "no option is off the table" when it comes to preventing those countries from continuing their alleged weapons programmes (CNN: "U.S. gets tough over WMD trade," 2 Dec. 2003).

This is particularly worrying in light of the past year of U.S. unilateralism and the doctrine of pre-emptive attack. The publicly-stated reasons for the invasion of Iraq were the "imminent threat" posed by weapons of mass destruction that Saddam was alleged to have on hand. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went so far as to state that "We know where they are." Almost a year later, with no WMDs found in Iraq, it has become clear how far the Bush regime is willing to manipulate the truth (aka "lie") to achieve its goals.

How, then, are we to view the threatening nature of U.S. statements vis-a-vis Cuba? The U.S. went halfway 'round the world to invade Iraq, while Cuba is just 90 miles from Florida. If the U.S. is able to sufficiently convince the public that Cuba is a real threat - despite all evidence to the contrary - is it unrealistic to think an invasion of the island is on Washington's agenda? They did it once, in 1961 at the Bay of Pigs. If the U.S. is able to manufacture evidence that can be used to portray Cuba as an "imminent threat" to its national security, just how far might Washington go?

Bush has already tightened the "embargo" of Cuba to the point where the Treasury Department has massively increased the prosecution of those who violate the travel restrictions. Perhaps one of the most absurd was a 75-year-old grandmother fine $10,000 for taking a cycling trip to Cuba ("American fined for visiting Cuba wants Canadian travel agency to foot the tab," Canadian Press, 16 July 2003).

As Bush prepares for an election in the fall of 2004, "getting tough on Cuba" is a guaranteed strategy for boosting his chances in Florida, particularly among the huge Cuban-American community. It feeds into the propaganda effort that portrays him as a heroic leader in a time when America is said to be under great threat from terrorists. Will the U.S. president make Cuba a central campaign issue in 2004? Or worse - will Bush make Cuba a target of U.S. military aggression?

Feedback: What do you think?

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