The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.60/No.12           March 25, 1996 
Washington Intensifies Economic War Against Cuba Havana: `No pressure will make us give up sovereignty'  


President Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton bill into law March 12, in Washington's latest attempt to squeeze Cuba economically and undermine its socialist revolution. The legislation, which Congress approved the week before with bipartisan support, tightens the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba by penalizing businessmen in other countries who invest in the Caribbean nation.

A few days earlier in Montreal, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rejected Washington's demand to condemn Havana before conducting an investigation of the events of February 24 and the background to them.

That day, after repeated violations of Cuban airspace over months by hostile U.S. planes, two such aircraft were shot down over Cuban waters. The international body decided to organize an investigative commission.

Surrounded by Democratic and Republican politicians at the signing of the Helms-Burton bill, Clinton declared, "We're here today around a common commitment to bring democracy to Cuba," referring to Washington's ultimate goal of overthrowing the revolution and reimposing capitalist rule. He posed next to relatives of the four Cuban-American rightists whose planes were shot down.

In response, Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's National Assembly, said the Helms-Burton law was a prime example of U.S. "arrogance, haughtiness, and desperation in the face of a failed policy" toward Cuba. "No pressure will succeed in making Cuba give up its right to fight for independence and national sovereignty," declared a statement issued by the National Assembly.

Dole calls for indicting Cuban officials
Meanwhile, Republican candidates joined the bipartisan attack on Cuba. Senate majority leader Robert Dole released a letter he had sent Clinton backing the Helms-Burton law and calling on Attorney General Janet Reno to seek indictments for "capital murder in an act of international terrorism" against all Cuban government officials responsible for the February 24 downing of the intruding U.S. planes.

Emphasizing that such a charge "carries a penalty of death or life imprisonment," Dole's letter states, "U.S. indictments would mean the murderers would be subject to seizure and return to the United States or extradition to the United States any time they travel outside the territory of Cuba - in international airspace, in international waters, or in any country in the world."

Asked by reporters what individuals he wanted indicted, Dole replied, "We'll have to leave those little niceties up to the attorney general. But you know, that's how we got [Panamanian leader Manuel] Noriega," who was kidnapped by U.S. troops in 1989 and jailed in the United States.

In turn, Republican presidential contender Steve Forbes advocated launching a military strike against the nuclear power plant under construction in Cienfuegos, Cuba, "like the Israelis did in Iraq in 1981." He also called for intercepting any planes or ships carrying nuclear materials to Cuba.

Helms-Burton law
The Helms-Burton bill, named the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, turns the U.S. trade embargo, previously imposed by presidential executive orders, into Congressional law. Designed to stifle foreign investment on the island, it allows Cuban-American and other U.S. businessmen whose property was expropriated by Cuban workers to sue non-U.S. companies investing in those properties. The law also bars visas for non-U.S. residents who "traffic" in such property.

In addition, the new law calls for restricting aid to the former Soviet Union as long as it shares intelligence with Cuba, and withholding U.S. financing to any government that aids the completion of Cuba's nuclear power plant. The law also calls for opposing any loans to Cuba by international financial institutions.

According to the law, sanctions will be lifted only after Cuba's revolutionary government is overthrown and a "transitional" regime approved by Washington is set up.

The governments of Canada and the European Union condemned the new U.S. legislation for interfering in their own business dealings.

Latin America's 14-member Rio Group expressed its "most energetic rejection" of the U.S. law, saying it violated international law and "the sovereignty of states."

Some critics of the new law point to a little-known provision allowing the richest Cuban exiles - those who owned at least $50,000 worth of property at 1960s prices - to extort profits through the Helms-Burton act. Under the measure, these businessmen can sue an investor in a Cuban joint venture and then reach an out-of-court settlement by accepting a cut of the investment revenue.

In other words, some of the loudest proponents of the U.S. trade ban will profit from international investment on the island while wielding "a unilateral right to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba on a case-by-case basis," remarked an attorney quoted in the London Financial Times.

International aviation agency meeting
Meeting in Montreal March 7, the ICAO rejected the U.S. government's proposal to immediately condemn Cuba for shooting down the U.S. planes. Instead, it decided to send an investigative commission to Cuba and the United States and release its findings in 60 days.

At a press conference in Montreal, Alarcón said, "This decision clearly means that the inquiry will study the 25 violations of Cuban territory by U.S. planes over the last 20 months."

Alarcón said Havana was ready to provide all necessary information on the history of U.S. violations of its airspace. He added, "The inquiry will show that the organization responsible for the flights over our territory, Brothers to the Rescue, repeatedly violated not only our sovereignty but also the laws of international civil aviation and even U.S. laws. We kept the U.S. government totally informed of all violations of our territory. When we decided to shoot down these planes, it was simply because we had no other choice."

The Cuban leader noted that Washington "denies our planes the right to fly over U.S. territory. Even the plane I took for coming to this ICAO meeting had to make a detour of close to an hour." He said the Cuban government might stop U.S. airlines from using its air corridors in view of Washington's failure to prevent violations of Cuba's airspace by Brothers to the Rescue.

Basulto: `I am a soldier'
Despite claims by the White House that Brothers to the Rescue is a nonviolent, humanitarian organization that rescues rafters, Brothers chief José Basulto acknowledged in an interview in the March 8 Miami Herald that "we are in a mode of confrontation with the Castro government."

Asked how many rafters he had spotted at sea since August 1995, Basulto answered, "None." He admitted Brothers to the Rescue had repeatedly entered Cuban airspace, saying "I haven't counted" the times.

To the question of whether his planes had planned to drop antigovernment leaflets on February 24, as on past occasions, Basulto replied, "No, absolutely not.... If we were leafleting we wouldn't be taking, you may call it, civilians with us." The admission that their leafleting and other hostile actions over Cuban territory were not "civilian" missions exposes one of the Clinton administration main propaganda themes.

In another such "civilian" operation, two C-337 planes took off on Nov. 10, 1994, from the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo - Cuban soil occupied by Washington against the will of the Cuban people - and flew over the Punta Maisí lighthouse, dropping antigovernment leaflets. U.S. officials acknowledge these were Brothers to the Rescue planes.

A longtime CIA collaborator and veteran of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, Basulto defiantly added, "I am a soldier. Soldiers realize what they are in when they get in to it."

Apparently, Basulto realized what he was in when he took part in the February 24 provocation, in which three Brothers to the Rescue planes invaded Cuban airspace. By the time the MiG pilots from Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces approached them, two of the U.S. aircraft were 5-8 miles from the island's coast - well inside its 12-mile territorial limit. The third plane, flown by Basulto, was just outside the 12-mile limit. When the two U.S. planes ignored warning passes by the MiG fighters, they were shot down, while Basulto returned home to Florida.

At a February 28 press conference at the United Nations, Cuban foreign minister Roberto Robaina reported on disclosures by Juan Pablo Roque, a former Cuban air force pilot who had gone to Miami in 1992 and joined Brothers to the Rescue. Roque returned to Cuba in mid-February.

Before the February 24 incident, Roque warned Basulto that Cuban authorities were expecting a provocation and were ready to shoot down intruding U.S. aircraft. "Basulto's response was to carry out the action, enter into Cuba's jurisdiction, but for himself to remain outside the international line, aware of the fate his cohorts might suffer," Robaina told the press. Basulto's position, Roque reported, was that they "needed martyrs to help market his organization."

The FBI was stung by Roqués statements that the spy agency knew ahead of time that the aircraft were going to be shot down. FBI officials, who admit Roque reported to them on Brothers to the Rescue activities, angrily announced they might press murder conspiracy charges against Roque in connection with the shootdown of the counterrevolutionaries' planes. The Cuban ex-pilot, however, is now safely in Havana.

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