Summit Is Stage for Anti-U.S. Sentiment
Thursday, September 14, 2006
HAVANA, Sept. 13 -- Cuban math, at least the political version, goes like this: President Bush plus Luis Posada Carriles, a Fidel Castro opponent who is suspected in the bombing of a civilian Cuban jet, equals Adolf Hitler.
The formula -- Bush's image, followed by a plus sign, then Posada Carriles's face, followed by an equal sign that points to Hitler's face -- is on posters all over Havana. But it is most prominently displayed on a dark, grainy billboard along the seaside road traveled each day by diplomats attending this week's summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana.
The summit's Cuban hosts contend that the gathering of leaders from 118 nations -- about 60 percent of the countries in the world -- is focused on revitalizing the Non-Aligned Movement and is not intended as an exercise in Bush bashing. Nonetheless, the summit is proving to be a high-profile opportunity for Cuban leaders to vent about U.S. policies before more than 1,000 visiting journalists, and it is exposing the depths of the vitriol that characterizes the 47-year stalemate between Castro and his "enemy to the north."
The Cubans are likely to have plenty of empathetic ears for their criticisms of the Iraq war, U.S. support for Israel and the treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo prison on the eastern edge of Cuba. The list of heads of state expected to arrive Thursday reads like an all-star team of Bush's most nettlesome adversaries, including Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.
Summit leaders are signaling that they will formally condemn the U.S. opposition to Ahmadinejad's nuclear program, which Iran says would be used to generate electricity but U.S. officials say is the start of a nuclear weapons program. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, a rising star in island politics considered a possible successor to Fidel Castro and his brother, Raúl Castro, called the United States "hypocritical" during an address to open the summit and demanded that the "world's only superpower" disarm its nuclear arsenal.
But the intrigue enveloping the debate over Iran's nuclear ambitions, which could intensify with an anticipated summit speech by Ahmadinejad, pales next to the aura of mystery surrounding Fidel Castro, who has yet to make a public appearance since temporarily relinquishing power to his younger brother July 31.
The summit hallways buzzed Monday when news service reports cited a schedule that said Fidel Castro would host a dinner for heads of state on Friday. The Cuban government quickly sent out a revised schedule without Castro's name and has since refused to say whether the 80-year-old leader will appear in public.
In Castro's absence, Cuban television has been airing clips of his speeches at previous summits of the Non-Aligned Movement, a four-decade-old organization that had its heyday during the Cold War but has seen its influence and profile drop considerably since the fall of the Soviet Union. In one clip, while Castro compares Bush to Hitler, an image of the Statue of Liberty appears on the screen, then morphs into shots of Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and U.S. soldiers in combat.
U.S.-Cuba frictions have ratcheted up this week following the recommendation of a Texas magistrate on Monday that Posada Carriles be released from detention. He has been held on immigration charges since last year, and U.S. officials have refused to extradite him to Venezuela, where he is wanted as a suspect in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jet that killed 73 Cubans and Venezuelans. An immigration judge had previously said that Posada Carriles could not be sent to either Cuba or Venezuela because of the possibility he would be tortured.
Summit attendees are expected to issue a condemnation of the U.S. decisions in the Posada Carriles case, though a diplomat from an African nation confided, on condition of anonymity, that such declarations carry no official weight and "are just empty statements."
On the way back to their hotel, the diplomats will pass more images of Bush alongside Posada Carriles and billboards that claim the United States is plotting to overthrow the island and evict Cubans from their homes. One of the billboards, styled after a movie poster, labels Bush "the assassin." His smile reveals the bloody, pointed teeth of a vampire.