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Castro's Government an 'Aberration' in Hemisphere, says Powell

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration is reviewing all aspects of U.S. policy toward Cuba, in light of the crackdown on dissent there. In comments to reporters Monday, Mr. Powell called Fidel Castro's communist government an "aberration" in the Western Hemisphere.

The ferocity of the crackdown, which included the trial and imprisonment of dozens of dissident figures, has shocked Cuba experts from across the political spectrum in Washington, and spawned a policy review within the administration.

In a talk with reporters here after meeting Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Secretary Powell said the administration is reviewing all its policies and its overall approach to Cuba, in light of the "deteriorating" human rights situation on the island.

In the crackdown, which began in March, Cuba rounded up 75 prominent political activists, and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 28 years on charges including subversion and treason.

Two weeks ago, Cuba also executed three men after they hijacked a ferry boat in a failed attempt to reach the United States, action described here as having been, at least, a violation of due process.

Mr. Powell welcomed the intervention of Pope John Paul II, who in a letter to President Castro made public Sunday expressed sorrow over the heavy sentences against the dissidents and denounced the executions of the three would be hijackers.

The secretary said the crackdown sets Cuba apart from all other governments in the region.

"The long terms of imprisonment, 12, 15, 20 years, for speaking out, trying to exercise basic human rights - this just once again illustrates the nature of that regime under this dictator, Fidel Castro, who's been doing this for many years," he said. "And so, I hope, the whole world will now see this regime for what it is, a regime that is one of the last of its kind on the face of the earth, and really is an aberration in the Westerm Hemisphere."

Mr. Powell gave no details of the review, but an official here said it covered "all policy tools" at the disposal of the administration.

Possible punitive measures reportedly include a cut-off of remittances to families in Cuba from relatives living in the United States.

But there is concern that stopping the estimated one billion dollars a years in payments might hurt ordinary Cuban citizens more than the Castro government.

Secretary Powell later Monday told a meeting here of the Council of the Americas, a policy advisory group, that the United States is looking to the Organization of American States to stand up for freedom and democracy in Cuba.

Last week, the United States and supporters within the OAS failed to win approval for a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Cuba, but are expected to try again with a revised text soon.

Cuba also avoided censure at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva in mid-April, though the commission did approve a measure calling on Cuba to accept a visit by a U.N. human rights monitor. Cuba subsequently refused to accept the visit.