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Why Steve Eckardt decided not to report on a story he was told
in Havana by Cubans who hadnt even been kidnapped by aliens.
My last night in Havana I heard a story I couldnt believe
I was in the hotel bar, of course. My informant - a well-educated Afro-Cuban artist - told me that a plane from the United States had flown over the capital dropping anti-government leaflets just the weekend before.
Yeah, right, I said. As if any country would let hostile aircraft fly over its capital unmolested. Especially Cuba - its only had 37 years of US-sponsored invasions, assassination plots, germ warfare, bombings, blockades...
Es verdad - its true, she assured me. And they did it last summer too.
Now I was supposed to believe it happened twice! I said I was a journalist specializing in Cuba and Mexico, and Id heard nothing about it.
She shrugged. You dont believe me? Ask someone else. Theyll tell you the same thing.
So I did. And they did.
Well, this was one unbelievable story I wasnt going to humiliate myself by trying to report. Hell, theres people wholl tell you theyve been kidnapped by aliens.
One thing did give me pause as I took my leave. You know, she said with a touch of petulance, the Government did tell them that if they ever did it again the Air Force would shoot them down.
That parts credible, I thought. But... nah.
Now its common knowledge that the womans story was true:
Cuba did allow hostile aircraft to fly over Havana both in July and January, and it did issue repeated warnings of what would happen the next time.
Now we are all expected to believe a far more incredible tale, in fact one that appears demonstrably false: murderous Cubans shot down clearly unarmed civilian planes.
Leave aside one wags remark: the only people who are clearly unarmed are naked - and even then, not if theyre carrying a lunch box.
Leave aside Cubas forced existence in a virtual state of war with Washington for so long - the innumerable CIA operations, the US embargo thats not supported by any other country in the world.
The truth is that Brothers to the Rescue, the organization responsible for penetrations of Cuban airspace, is about as humanitarian as Pat Buchanan, its aircraft about as civilian as General Schwarzkopf in his retirement business suit. Brothers is a group of Cuban exiles devoted to the overthrow of Cubas Government.
Its leader, José Basulto, is distinguished by having participated I
the Bay of Pigs invasion and subsequently firing a cannon at a
hotel in Havana.
The real activities of the Brothers were exposed at a press conference in Cuba that was hardly reported at all by the mainstream press. Juan Roque is a major in the Cuban Air Force who defected the US, joined the Brothers and became the darling of the Cuba exile community in Florida. He told a national television audience that hed returned to Cuba to denounce the terrorist plans of the Brothers. He went on to detail CIA involvement in the organization, their regular illegal landings on Cuban soil and their plans t. introduce weapons and terror squads to the island.
So it is Washington that should answer for the actions of the Brothers and the lives of the downed pilots. After all, it was the US Government that condoned - apparently even aided - the exiles violations of both US and international law.
Contrast with this the US Governments treatment of Harlem based Rev Lucius Walker. His attempt to send medical aid to Cuban hospitals through Cuban churches was met by US police and Customs agents in full riot gear as he and 300 supporters attempted to cross the border into Mexico. Rev Walker subsequently went on protest hunger strike.
Immediately after the downing of the aircraft the US Government moved swiftly to restrict Cuban spokespeople from traveling to the States to speak to Americans, and terminated flights for those wishing to travel to Cuba. Both these actions were clear efforts to prevent the US public from getting the other side of the story.
Such efforts are of a piece with the hue and cry in the US against anyone - including the far-from-communist Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan - who dares to express unorthodox opinions or listen to others, outside the borders of the US. Cuba is eminently guilty of thinking internationally, as Nelson Mandelas recent tribute to Cuban support for the antiapartheid struggle has underlined.
Taken together with Malcolm Xs injunction to look upon the struggle on the world stage, doesnt this speak volumes about what should be done by alliances across international borders? A good place to start - beginning with yours truly, Mr Egg-on-the-Face-believing what folks overseas have to tell us.
Steve Eckardt (e-mail: [email protected]) is a Chicago-based freelance journalist who covered the Solidarity with the Third World international meeting held in Havana.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996