Politics & Policy

Castro’s Crackdown

It's really Bush's fault.

By now you’ve heard that Fidel Castro has arrested more than 75 Cuban dissidents and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 28 years. His totalitarian government also executed three men who tried to hijack a boat.

What you may not realize is that it’s all President Bush’s fault. At least that’s the belief of Wayne S. Smith, one of Washington’s premier Castro apologists, in a column appearing in the May 12 edition of The Nation.

“Why the crackdown?” asks Smith of the Center for International Policy. That’s an easy question for those who stick to the principle of Occam’s razor — the notion that the simplest explanation is usually the best one. It’s that Castro is a cruel dictator who has remained in power for so long by crushing dissent at his convenience.

For Smith, however, things are a bit more complicated. The crackdown, he says, was partly “a reaction to growing provocations on the part of the Bush administration.” He singles out James Cason, new chief of the U.S. Interests Section, for meeting with the dissidents and supporting “transition to a participatory form of government.” Castro and his henchmen, reports Smith, “came to see the meetings as subversive in nature and highly provocative.”

Then he offers a thought experiment: “Let us imagine the reaction … if the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington was holding meetings with disgruntled Americans and announcing that the purpose was to bring about a new form of government.” Ah yes. We would kill a few of them and throw the rest in jail. That’s the American way.

The Bush administration’s offenses against Castro’s regime don’t stop at promoting democracy, says Smith. “An even more crucial element in the crackdown than Cason’s meetings with dissidents was the announcement of the U.S. policy of ‘pre-emptive’ strikes and the beginning of the war in Iraq,” he writes. Because of this, the island’s Communist rulers “could no longer afford to have dissidents, possibly directed by the United States, roaming free.”

Smith goes on to lament Castro’s political blunder. “Initiatives in Congress to ease sanctions against Cuba will now be on hold,” he writes. True enough. What’s more, “in the eyes of the world, [the crackdown] turns Cuba into a rogue state.” Here’s where Smith commits his own mistake. The problem with Castro’s Cuba isn’t that it just turned into a rogue state. The problem is that it’s been a rogue state for more than 40 years.

Smith must understand this at some level, because he offers Castro advice on how to neutralize pro-democracy forces without looking like such a heavy: “There were certainly less dramatic and counterproductive ways to keep an eye on dissidents. Cuban state security had the whole movement thoroughly penetrated.”

What a silly dictator! He had the situation completely under control, but went and tossed a bunch of people in the poky anyway.

Well, it’s not really his fault. The blame lies with President Bush and his “aggressive embellishments,” because they’ve “only succeeded in reversing the trend toward greater toleration of dissent.” Fidel Castro, that wonderful man in Havana, had nothing to do with it.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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