March 1, 1996
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The U.S. and Cuban government have both given warnings to Brothers to the Rescue, not to enter Cuban air space or territorial waters. But the Clinton administration also has warned Cuba not to take hostile action against the exiled flotilla. For more on this latest round of tension between Cuba and Cuban-Americans, we get two perspectives.
Frank Calzon is the Washington representative for Freedom House, a human rights organization that promotes democracy around the world, and Jose Pertierra is legal counsel for Cambio Cubano, a Cuban-American organization based in Miami that seeks political change in Cuba through peaceful means. Thank you both for being with us. Mr. Pertierra, what do you think is likely to happen this weekend?
JOSE PERTIERRA, Cambio Cubano: Well, I hope that nothing much will happen this weekend. We are calling for restraint on both sides. We're calling on restraint on the part of the Cuba government and restraint on the part of the Cuban-Americans who compose Brothers to the Rescue We think it's necessary to de-fuse this crisis. It's highly dangerous. It could precipitate yet another bigger crisis down, down the road, and unless we de-fuse the tensions that exist between the two nations, I think we're going to be here again next month and the month after that and on and on again because this is a never-ending proposition.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think, Mr. Calzon?
FRANK CALZON, Freedom House: Well, I think that unless the President continues to look at Cubans and take strong action, Mr. Castro will continue to kill not only Cubans in Cuba but to try to do what he did, murdering these Americans in nefarious trade, so I don't think that calling on the Cuban government for restraint makes any sense. In the last couple of weeks, there are more than a hundred human rights activists who are in prison in Cuba who wanted to meet with the public--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think it's likely that there could be something that happened, either that perhaps one of the boats would take off and go across the waters, or do you think anybody's looking for a fight this weekend?
MR. CALZON: I think the Cuban-American community wants to honor its dead. I think that the idea of having a priest or rabbi, Cuba's an island and Cubans have a special affection for the ocean, for the sea, so this is very appropriate to honor those who died, who were killed by Castro. At the same time, since the President has asked the Coast Guard to help out, I think the Cuban-American community is very concerned about agents from Castro that might want to provoke some kind of incident, and I think the Cuban-American community will do what it can to make sure that this takes place in international waters and that Castro does not have another excuse.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that anybody is looking for a fight that's going out on this flotilla? I mean, Brothers to the Rescue, there are various views of it, that it has flown over Cuban air space. Bisota flew over on July 13th, as I understand it, and do you think members of Brothers to the Rescue would be looking for a fight?
|Provoking the Cuban government|
MR. PERTIERRA: I don't think there's any doubt that Brothers to the Rescue has for the past several months engaged in a policy of trying to provoke the Cuban government to precipitate some sort of a crisis. I don't think they were looking to get killed, but I think they were looking to precipitate something such as, for example, a Cuban MiG firing off the bow, shot at 'em, that would have provoked an incident. I think they got more than they bargained for. They didn't think that the two Cessnas would be brought out of the sky and unfortunately, four young men died, and it's very tragic that as a result of all of this, American foreign policy towards Cuba and the Cuban-American efforts to try to reconcile our differences have been held hostage by an incident that I fear is going to continue to be repeated unless we de-fuse the crisis by beginning to engage the government of Cuba in dialogue and stop the kind of policies that the United States Congress is going to be considering next week, such as Helms-Burden for example, which I think is highly inflammatory of an already serious crisis.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, I wanted to ask you both about that. You think that the moves that the Clinton administration has taken this week, various moves from tightening the embargo to cutting down on, on the charter flights, do you think those have been the right moves or the wrong moves?
MR. PERTIERRA: I think they've been the wrong moves. I was very glad when I learned that President Clinton was thinking of vetoing Helms-Burden, because it's a wrong-headed policy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is a bill which would tighten the embargo?
MR. PERTIERRA: It's a bill which--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Which the administration is now backing.
MR. PERTIERRA: Exactly. And it would tighten the embargo severely, and it is based on, I think, the false notion that you can basically starve the people of Cuba into submission, and it hasn't worked for the last 35 years. You have an embargo in place against Cuba for 35 years and Fidel Castro has not gone away, and he's not going to go away by any further embargoes. All that it does is make it difficult for our family members in Cuba to see us on a regular basis, those of us who live in the United States. It makes it difficult for them to receive medicines from us. It makes it very difficult for the economy of Cuba to get off the ground and receive foreign investment, and the purpose behind the bill is to de-stabilize the Cuban government, and I fear it will precipitate a crisis in Cuba that will be catastrophic.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about administration policy over this past week? Do you think the administration has approached what happened last Saturday, the shooting down of the plane, in a way that, that will produce the result, in your view?
MR. CALZON: I think that first of all we have to stop blaming the victim. The responsible element in this tragedy are not Brothers to the Rescue, throwing copies of the universal declaration of human rights over Havana is not really such a big deal. The United States is not at fault. There is always--there are always people who want to blame the United States first for everything. Mr. Castro has to allow the Cuban people the minimal human rights. It's not sufficient to talk about the rights of Cuban exiles like us to visit with our relatives in Cuba. What about the rights of Cuban people in Cuba not to be tortured, to be permitted to speak, to be permitted to meet to do what they wanted to do on February 24th, the day when the planes were shot, were the same day that the coalition of human rights activists had called for a public meeting with a church, with diplomatic observers. Castro's response is to put all of them in prison.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that's one reason the planes were shot down, that there is--there was a movement that was meeting in, in Cuba, and this was a warning both to exiles abroad and to people in Cuba, is that why you think it happened?
MR. CALZON: I think the reason why the planes were shot down--and that's not a surprise to me, one who has kept an eye on Cuban matters for a long time, Castro continues to kill Cubans, and as long as he can get away with it, he will continue to do that. The appropriate response from the United States should have been to destroy those planes, even at the time that it happened or immediately after, so that the Cuban military will know that they can defend Cuba, but they cannot go into international air space and kill innocent people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you have a response to that?
MR. PERTIERRA: Yes. I don't think the United States should have responded by going up and confronting Cuban MiG's. I think that would have escalated an already terrible situation. Look--
|High level decision|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Before you go on, why do you think the planes were shot down? I mean, do you assume that it was a decision taken at the highest level of the Cuban government, that either Fidel Castro or his brother, Raoul, who's head of the army, made the decision?
MR. PERTIERRA: I, of course, don't know, because I am not a part of the Cuban government, but I would assume that a decision of that kind would be made at the very highest levels of the government.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They must have known that it would bring the condemnation of much of the world down on their heads. Why do you think they did it?
MR. PERTIERRA: I think for the past several months Cuba has received these incursions into Cuba, and there's been a tremendous amount of pressure from the within the Cuban armed forces to respond forcibly.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're talking about the incursions, you're talking about the Brothers dropping leaflets or more?
MR. PERTIERRA: There's been other kinds of incursions against Cuba really for the last 35 years launched from U.S. territory. There's been armed incursions into Cuba. There's been sabotage directed at Cuban installations from Cuban exile groups trained in Florida, in the Everglades, and you know, you have to understand that the Cuban government is also responding to elements of the Cuban population that see this as a violation of their nation's sovereignty, and there is a tremendous amount of pressure to prevent these kinds of events from occurring and also, you know, we know that these four planes, for example, were--were not, that these two Cessnas flying over Havana were really carrying grenades and were dropping them, were going to drop them over the population.
MR. CALZON: Yeah, but the planes--
MR. PERTIERRA: And let's suppose that those planes went into Cuba unimpeded and that they dropped these grenades. How would the armed forces of Cuba be able to tell their people that they allowed these planes to go unimpeded into Cuban territory? And I think the United States would have the same concerns if similar flights were conducted by a foreign power over Washington, D.C., or New York.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Calzon.
MR. CALZON: That's patently nonsense. Civilized nations do not shoot civilian aircraft. If you listen to the tapes and the transcripts, the Cuban pilots knew what the planes were. They shot down one. The others ran away, and they ran after the other ones. There was no threat, no danger to Cuba. They knew that they were unarmed--this is all in tapes--civilian aircraft. This is terrorism in international waters. I'm sorry to say but there's no difference between much of what you say and what the Cuban official point of view is. The point here is not whether airplanes fly into Cuba. The reason why Brothers to the Rescue drop leaflets with the universal declaration of human rights in Cuba is because in Cuba, a person that asks for respect for human rights, that's a provocation for the government.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to--we don't have much time left. What will Brothers to the Rescue do? Let's assume for a minute that the event Saturday is peaceful, that there's a replaying, there's a memorial, and that nothing happens, but what happens next? Will there be more flights? What do you see in the future?
MR. CALZON: Well, what happens next is from the point of view of Freedom House, the international community ought to focus on what's happening to the Cuban people today. Cuba is not Castro. Castro is not Cuba. The Cuban military--you talk about the Cuban military--the Cuban military doesn't play any role in this. It is Fidel Castro. No one would do something like that unless Castro orders it personally.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But I'm asking, do you expect what Mr. Pertierra expects, that there would be more, more--whether they're considered provocations or they're considered legitimate acts of people trying to--
MR. CALZON: The only--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: --inform people--
MR. CALZON: The only way that you will not have additional violence inside Cuba is for the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to speak, to organize, because otherwise, the minute that they try to speak up, the violent reaction of the Cuban government will be there. I--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay.
MR. CALZON: He doesn't want to talk about what's happening to the Cuban people and to dissidents who get electric shock therapy in hospitals. That is the heart of this issue, what's happening to the Cuban people.
MR. PERTIERRA: You know, back in November, the founder of Cambio Cubano--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is the founder of your organization.
MR. PERTIERRA: --went to Cuba. Yes. He went to Cuba and stood up in Cuba in front of the foreign ministry of Cuba and a number of other Cuban dignitaries and asked for political change in Cuba, for an opening of the political and economic system in Cuba, demanded reforms in the penal code of Cuba, and said that he had the right to return to Cuba, to start an office in Cuba for Cambio Cubano, to seek political change through peaceful means in Cuba. I don't think that those are the acts of an apologist for Fidel Castro. I think it is much more courageous to go to Cuba and to ask for political changes to the Cuban government in Cuba than to do it from the suburbs of--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry. That's all the time we have. Thank you very much for being with us.