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Cuban Exiles Question US Policy Towards Cuban Dictatorship


With Saddam Hussein's removal from power in Iraq, many Cuban exiles say the United States should turn its attention to another dictator closer to U.S. shores: Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Jaime Suchlicki, the head of the Institute for Cuban Studies at the University of Miami said many parallels can be drawn between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

"Fidel Castro for the past 40 years has opposed the United States, has supported terrorism in various countries and in various parts of the world, and has oppressed his people," he said. "So there are significant similarities between the two regimes [Castro's and Saddam's]."

In recent days, the Bush administration has issued pointed warnings to Syria about harboring terrorists and developing weapons of mass destruction. The implication seems clear to some Cuban exiles: leaders of nations that follow a path similar to that of Iraq risk suffering a fate like that of Saddam Hussein.

Yet the Bush administration does not appear eager for confrontation with Cuba. Speaking on U.S. television [NBC's "Meet the Press"] Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld downplayed the possibility of U.S. military intervention to remove Fidel Castro.

"We care about the people of Cuba, who are repressed in a dictatorship," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "But the American people for the most part want to go about their business. And we recognize we cannot try to make everyone in the world be like we are. We recognize in a complicated world that there are countries that live differently."

Mr. Rumsfeld's comments triggered a sharp reaction in south Florida's large Cuban-exile community. Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she believes the defense secretary's views are out-of-step with the administration as a whole.

The congresswoman said Mr. Rumsfeld's declarations were very poor, do not reflect the true feelings of the Bush administration, and President Bush is opposed to dictatorship and recognizes that Fidel Castro is a dictator.

For years, the United States has accused Cuba of supporting terrorism. And U.S. officials have expressed concern over Cuba's potential to develop weapons of mass destruction.

But, according to Cuba researcher Jaime Sucklicki, the United States does not view Cuba as an imminent threat to its national security.

"There is some concern in the United States about Cuba's biological and chemical capabilities, and clearly Cuba has a pharmaceutical industry and an infrastructure capable of developing weapons of mass destruction," said Mr. Sucklicki. "The question is: has Cuba developed them? Is Cuba stockpiling those weapons? I do not think there is any clear knowledge of that [on the part of the United States]."

Jaime Suchlicki says, outside of Miami, there is little support among Americans for toppling Fidel Castro. He adds that the United States promised a "hands-off" policy towards Cuba as part of a once-secret deal with the former Soviet Union to resolve the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

But he notes that the apparent absence of U.S. effort to remove Fidel Castro from power has been a cause of consternation and dismay for many Cuban exiles, who for decades have witnessed U.S. forces intervene elsewhere in Latin America, and more recently in Iraq.

"The United States has intervened in Panama to remove [former strongman Manuel] Noriega, intervened in Haiti, and also intervened in Grenada, and now in Iraq," he said. "So there is significant expectation and significant frustration among Cubans [exiles] as to why the United States has not done more to accelerate and bring about a change [in Cuba]."

Jaime Suchlicki says many Cuban exiles are now convinced that, barring a major provocation from Havana, the United States will never intervene in Cuba, and that if regime change is to occur, Cubans themselves will have to lead the charge.

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