Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

Aug. 18, 1999.


HAVANA - Canada is this island's best business partner. But when on March 1 Cuban officials announced that the four dissidents would undergo a trial, an angry protest followed from the Ottawa government. Five months later, at the Pan-American Games, in Winnipeg, Commandant Castro and President Chretien were exchanging less than friendly words.

The future (of relations) between the two countries is far from certain. Mr. Castro could have been satisfied by the athletic results Cubans obtained at the continental competitions in Canada. There were some bad scores, though: Desertions, 13; athletes disqualified after they tested positive for drugs, 3. Amongst the last was the high jump record-holder, Javier Sotomayor, a symbol to many of Cuba's international sports' standing. These matters marred all happiness.

Cuba in 1999 seems to be losing political savvy, too. The Canada affair is but one example. The Great Lakes nation is the most important investor in this greatest of the Antilles. And the largest number of tourists come from there. Relations once were good. But on that 1st of March, once the decree went out that Martha Beatriz Roque, Feliz Bonne, Rene Gomez Manzano and Vladimiro Roca would spend up to five years behind bars, matters began to change. Those sentences were not looked upon kindly by Chretien's government. It was logical: Canada heads the list of ultra-democratic governments and its citizens do not accept jailing as the appropriate way to deal with dissenters.

To make matters worse, over the last two years Cuba received visits from Chancellor Lloyd Axworthy with whom Cuba signed documents pertaining to human-rights themes and pledged to improve them on the Cuban end. To much of the Canadian public opinion, Cuba was mocking the documents it signed.

One could see the storm coming even though the northern giant is virtually as far from Cuba as the Earth is from the Moon. Canada is an example of democracy and has a high standard of living. The Cuban island is the very opposite: An economic crisis becomes ever worse and democracy remains a pending subject. The clash was inevitable. Immediately after the trial of the four leaders of the Working Group for Internal Dissidence relations between the two countries started cooling. But with the Winnipeg Games those relations hit rock-bottom.

Who is to blame? Cuba; in its obstinacy, the Havana regime does not seem to register the changes the world has undergone and continues stuck with its old, canned speeches. The Cuban delegation went to Canada with a predetermined mind set.

Using their heavy artillery, Castro and his government press attacked the Canadian authorities mercilessly. Castro and his press accused the Canadians of swindling Cuba at the official raffles when different events were eliminated from the competition. The motive, according to Castro was to allow Canada to occupy the second-place slot. So far Cuba has not shown proof of the accusations.

After the many desertions and the protests by Cuban exiles at some of the events, the Cuban officials accused the hosts of "playing dumb" and of encouraging desertions. The Cuban leaders seemed to ignore that in an open and pluralistic society anybody can jump to the playing field with a poster not be jailed or hit, particularly when all they ask for is respect for human rights.

Thus in a match meant to create fraternity and other noble feelings between countries the Island saw "the most difficult combat fought by the revolution was on a sporting field," or so goes the official version. With that antique language the athletes became soldiers and the delegation a battalion charged with keeping Cuba's flag up at all costs. After the Sotomayor test results were known, Cuba's reaction reached levels of political hysteria. This time the verbal accusations were also directed at the United States, the CIA and the Cuban American National Foundation as well as Canada and its Pan-American Sports Organization. Nobody was actually formally accused; there were simply no proofs.

Why couldn't the Cubans have been more prudent? It is true that Sotomayor, the "Prince of Heights" is a national symbol but until one can prove a plot, the laboratory test results stand. The scandal let loose by the Cuban authorities on the Sotomayor affair has no solid base. The Winnipeg war is over. The battalion suffered important losses: 13 desertions, 3 gold medals lost through disqualifications. The athletes involved may well have to stay out of competition for two to four more years.

The effect on Cuban-Canadian relations? Currently relations are at zero. For how long? No one knows. For the time being, Winnipeg (the name means muddy waters in the Creek-Indian language) has been the site of a major slip for the Cuban government. It was neither a Waterloo nor a victory. One can not speak of victory when somebody of the stature of Sotomayor becomes identified as a drug user.

And there's no Cuban gain when Castro, "field marshal of the revolution," increases the tensions and frictions with the nation which has most forcefully helped Cuba's flagging finances.

Ivan Garcia, Cuba Free Press.

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