September 12, 2003

The Miami Herald

New threat of sanctions against Cuba is called symbolic

By Nancy San Martin,

A Bush administration announcement that Cuba will face economic sanctions for failing to curtail the sexual exploitation and forced labor of Cuban minors will have little impact beyond public humiliation, several experts say.

''Leverage is minimal,'' said Damián Fernández, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. "This really is more symbolic than anything else.''

Cuba, Burma and North Korea were among three nations cited this week for not taking steps to stop human trafficking, including forcing people to work or engage in sexual acts against their will. Twelve other nations, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti, were spared from losing U.S. aid.


All 15 nations were cited by the State Department earlier this summer for not doing enough to stop the trafficking of humans -- internally or across their borders -- as called for by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

Cuba's problem is intertwined with the tourism industry, according to the State Department's report released in June.

''Cuba is a country of internal trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor,'' the report states. "Despite occasional measures by the government of Cuba to crack down on prostitution, state-controlled tourism establishments and independent operators facilitate and even encourage the sexual exploitation of minors by foreign tourists. Government authorities turn a blind eye to this exploitation because such activity helps to win hard currency for state-run enterprises.''

The report also cites Cuba for forcing children to engage in agricultural work.

In announcing the sanctions Wednesday, U.S. officials said penalties could include voting against loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, neither of which currently lends money to Cuba.

Cuban officials scoffed at the U.S. assertions.

''It's completely absurd,'' Lázaro Herrera, a spokesman at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Children are among the most sacred of things in Cuba. This is nothing more than a political ploy. It's an insult to our national dignity.

''I don't know what sanctions they [U.S. officials] could impose. We've had them for more than 40 years,'' Herrera added, referring to the economic embargo on Cuba.


Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuba and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami, said the United States is limited in what it can do, particularly since Cuba does not turn to the IMF or World Bank for loans.

''This is more about highlighting the abuses in Cuba,'' he said.

Of the 15 nations, all but five have taken adequate steps to avoid sanctions that were to take effect Oct. 1, U.S. officials said. In addition to the three cited, Liberia and Sudan also have failed to meet the standards of the legislation. However, they were spared from sanctions because President Bush determined that certain multilateral assistance for these two countries would help the purposes of the act or U.S. national security, State Department officials said.

Those countries rewarded for taking positive steps include Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Suriname, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Videotape aims to discredit rights advocate

Images show activist allegedly getting a government medal

By Nancy San Martin,

The controversy over the role of Cuban dissident Elizardo Sánchez as an alleged government agent deepened Thursday with the release of a videotape that purports to show him receiving a medal of honor from a high-ranking state security agent.

The internationally recognized human rights advocate, who last month was the focus of a government-sponsored book claiming he was a snitch, told reporters in Havana he didn't clearly recall the taped incident unveiled before the foreign press. But Sánchez was adamant about never having collaborated with government

agents, even as he again acknowledged having met with them dozens of times over the years.

''You can believe the totalitarian regime, or believe me,'' Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told journalists at his Havana home, the Associated Press reported.

''I am at peace with my conscience, and time will tell,'' said Sánchez, a former professor of Marxism who advocates dialogue with the government to achieve peaceful change in Cuba.

Still unclear is why the government chose to discredit Sánchez six months after an island-wide roundup that landed 75 dissidents in jail. Many in the United States and Cuba believe the smear campaign is an attempt by President Fidel Castro's government to further erode the opposition movement.

''In the worst of cases, Elizardo is a government agent; but in that case he obviously didn't do the work the government wanted him to,'' Vladimiro Roca, another prominent dissident, told The Herald in a telephone interview from Havana. "Otherwise, they wouldn't have done what they did.''

With the return to Cuba of Eloy Gutíerrez-Menoyo, a former rebel commander turned opposition leader, some people on the island have been speculating that the government is either permitting or trying to create a loyal opposition movement.

''The government either exalts people or assassinates people,'' said Angel De Fana, a leader of the Miami group Plantados, which supports dissidents in Cuba. "I can't figure out why they'd release a little video or book to discredit him. It makes no sense.''

The videotape follows the Aug. 18 release of a book authored by two journalists affiliated with the state-run media that attempted to out Sánchez as a state security informant. The book, titled El camaján, or The Freeloader, displayed several pages of photographs of Sánchez with men identified as government security officials.

One of the photographs depicted a government official placing something on Sánchez's shirt. Sánchez claimed at the time that the official was placing a pen in his pocket. But in the taped version of the event, the uniformed colonel with Cuba's Interior Ministry is clearly shown pinning a medal to Sánchez's shirt, AP reported.

''Congratulations, Elizardo,'' the colonel is heard saying, before the two embrace and share a toast with two other officials. Cuban authorities said the ceremony took place on Oct. 28, 1998.

Earlier in the videotaped ceremony, the small group sang along to a recorded version of the Cuban national anthem and the colonel thanked Sánchez for helping authorities identify three CIA officials in a visiting American delegation, according to AP.

Efforts by The Herald to reach Sánchez by telephone were unsuccessful.

Although the videotape raised doubt among some about Sánchez's relationship with government agents, other opposition leaders in Cuba remained supportive and raised their own questions about the credibility of the tape.

The tape also did little to deter support of Sánchez in Miami.

''I cannot give any credibility to anything coming from the regime, period,'' said Sebastián Arcos Cazabón, who served in a Cuban prison with Sánchez in the 1980s.

The 59-year-old Sánchez, who describes himself as a socialist democrat, broke with the government more than three decades ago and has since been a vocal critic of human-rights abuses.

He spent four years in Cuban prisons in the early 1980s and founded the human-rights commission group in 1987.

Herald staff writers Oscar Corral and Alejandro Landes contributed to this report.

Cuban Americans decry casino's Castro billboards

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - (AP) -- Cuban Americans are calling for a boycott of the Tropicana Casino and Resort after the gaming hall erected two billboards with the likeness of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The Tropicana is using Castro's image to tout The Quarter, the casino's $245 million entertainment, dining, retail and spa development project.

The ads, along two major highways leading into the city, show Castro with his trademark cigar and carry the slogan "The next revolution.''

Tropicana spokeswoman Maureen Siman told The Press of Atlantic City that the dictator's likeness was used to show that the project was revolutionary. She said the casino was not trying to make a political statement.

''The project is going to change Atlantic City in a positive way, in a revolutionary way,'' Siman told the newspaper.

Leading the boycott call is Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, D-West New York, who said the ad campaign was offensive and "pretty stupid.''

''He is one of the biggest violators of freedom,'' said Sires, a Cuban immigrant. "To be rewarded by being put on a billboard by the Tropicana Casino in America, I just think it's in poor taste.''

The Cuban American National Foundation said it has received complaints about the billboard from Cuban Americans and non-Cubans.

''There's no question it is distasteful,'' said Mariela Ferretti, a foundation spokeswoman. "It's just unfortunate that someone should choose to portray a figure of a man who still has 11 million subjugated citizens on the island.''



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