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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Cuban Terror Suspect Sets Off Propaganda Battle

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; 7:47 AM

It's the kind of propaganda duel that Fidel Castro relishes.

As the United States seeks approval this week of a U.N. resolution focusing on Cuba's human rights record, the Cuban communist leader has responded by charging that the United States is harboring a Cuban exile who, according to The Post and others, is linked to a series of terror attacks against Cuban targets.

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This war of words is now making headlines in the online media in south Florida, Venezuela, the Caribbean and Central America. This is a natural venue for Castro. During the struggle over castaway boy Elian Gonzalez in 2000, the fatigue-clad Cuban president marshaled rhetoric, facts and law to win sympathy and isolate his political foes in Miami who came off as intransigent in opposing the reunification of the boy and his father.

Now Castro is using the same tactics to fend off a Bush administration that is using the sometimes neglected tool of multilateral diplomacy to advance its own vision for democratizing Cuba. The result is a fair amount of hot air from both sides but also a very practical test of who will define and defend human rights in the international arena in the coming weeks.

In Geneva, the Bush administration "has filed a new resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission criticizing Cuba's record on abuses and requested that the world body keep the communist country's record under observation," reported the Associated Press via The Guardian

Castro's government is furiously denouncing the resolution which is supported by 37 other nations, according to the Mexico City daily Cronica de Hoy (Spanish), as "hypocrisy."

The proof, said Castro in a Havana speech covered by the government-run daily Granma, is Posada's presence in the United States.

Castro's audience included relatives of the 78 people killed in the mid-flight explosion of a Cubana Airlines jet in October 1976, according to the paper's English language Web site. Posada was later arrested for putting an explosives laden suitcase on the plane. He spent nine years in a Venezuelan jail but his defenders say he was never convicted of the crime. He escaped from jail in 1985.

Castro claimed that Cuban security services had tipped off Panama in November 2000 about the plans of Posada and three other men to assassinate Castro by planting 40 kilograms of TNT in a university lecture hall where Castro was scheduled to speak. Posada was convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail. Last year, he and three accomplices were pardoned by the president of Panama.

Posada has been living in unspecified Central American countries since 2000, his lawyer told Prensa Grafica (Spanish) in El Salvador. He recently entered the United States via Mexico, the lawyer said.

In a three-hour appearance on Cuban television on Monday, Castro charged that the Bush administration knew Posada had entered the United States. "It is as if Bin Laden were in the United States and the US president did not know," Castro said according to the BBC.

In Venezuela, the government of President Hugo Chavez says it will formally demand that the U.S. extradite Posada, according to two leading dailies, El Observador (Spanish) and El Nacional (Spanish).

Venezuela is Cuba's closest ally in the hemisphere.

One target of Castro's rhetorical offensive is Europe. Both Unavision (Spanish), the mainstream Mexican broadcast network, and the leftist daily La Jornada (Spanish) noted that Castro is seeking European help in getting Posada extradited.

The governments of Spain, France and Germany, in the past sympathetic to Castro's socialist politics, have grown more critical of Cuba since a 2003 crackdown on dissidents. Cuba now has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world, according to the watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders.

The Cuban government says the journalists are instruments of a U.S. policy designed to overthrow Castro's revolution. By highlighting Posada's story, Cuba changes the subject and seeks to stoke mistrust of Washington.

In comparison, the U.S. public diplomacy is low-key. In a piece for the Jamaica Observer, on Wednesday Thomas Tighe, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Kingston, said that the United States is pushing for a U.N. reporter on human rights in Cuba as part of its efforts to "encourage people struggling under repressive regimes."

"It was two years ago that the Cuban government began the most blatant act of repression against peaceful democracy and human rights activists in the history of Cuba. More than 100 activists were arrested; of those, 75 were summarily tried and sentenced to prison terms averaging 20 years each," Tighe said.

"We are urging our democratic allies in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean to stand behind the Cuban people on this resolution," he concluded.

The results of this clash will be in soon. The U.S.-backed resolution is expected to come up for a vote Thursday or Friday. The State Department is expected to make a decision on Posada's asylum request within a month.

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