Democrats Delay Hearing on Travel Ban to Cuba, As Its Envoy Hews Hard Line at United Nations
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On the eve of hearings that had been set to open in the United States Congress on whether to ease the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, Havana’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, has been taking a hard, even strident line here at the United Nations, very much at odds with the way Fidel Castro is trying to portray Cuba in the American press these days.
It has prompted old hands here at the United Nations to quote another, albeit different kind of, Marxist — Groucho, who famously asked: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?
The House Foreign Affairs Committee had been scheduled to hold tomorrow hearings that liberals had hoped would lead to a vote to lift the travel ban. But late today, the Democrats appear to have pulled back, not wanting to take up the matter before the congressional elections in November. Advocates of ending the ban were reported yesterday by Reuters to be disappointed, having sensed momentum in recent weeks.
The Atlantic Magazine, the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Times and others have recently reported that Cuba and the Castro brothers are mending their ways, decentralizing the economy, distancing themselves from world tyrants, and even finding kind words for Israel and the Jews.
Mr. Parrilla, however, was, in his address at the annual General Assembly debate, as rigid as ever, blaming America’s aggression for all the isle’s troubles, saying Israel is behind all that’s wrong in the Middle East, and expressing solidarity with Venezuela’s caudillo, Hugo Chavez.
“The Cuban revolution will unyieldingly and tenaciously continue down the path that has been sovereignly chosen by our people, and shall not cease in its endeavors, befitting the ideas of Marti and Fidel,” the Cuban foreign minister told delegates at the opening debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday.
And no, for Cuba the holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not the aggressor. “As Comrade Fidel has pointed out, powerful and influential forces in the United States and Israel are paving the way to launch a military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Parrilla warned, adding that the General Assembly must stop such a plot to commit a “crime against the Iranian people” and such “an assault against international law” in order to prevent a nuclear war.
Mr. Parrilla’s entire speech was an old-style Cuban assault on America and Israel, harking back to the glorious days of the Cold War when the Castros drew as much attention at international fora like the U.N. as is now reserved for Mr. Ahmadinejad or Mr. Chavez.
But wait a minute. Hasn’t Fidel Castro mellowed with age? Isn’t Cuba’s new powerhouse, Raul Castro, turning the country and its sclerotic system around?
Didn’t the older Castro tell the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and the Council’s Julia Sweig that the Cuban model no longer works (although he later recanted, saying that, though he’d been accurately quoted by Mr. Goldberg, he meant to say that the capitalist system isn’t working)?
Also in that Atlantic interview, Mr. Castro – who has championed Palestinian terrorists since the 1970s, when he also severed his country’s relations with Israel – talked about the suffering of the Jewish people and stressed the uniqueness of anti-Semitism. He even berated Mr. Ahmadinejad about his holocaust denial.
President Peres was so impressed that, while in New York late last week, he wrote a thank-you letter to Castro, which was hand delivered to Cuba’s ambassador to Turtle Bay. In it Mr. Peres congratulated Mr. Castro for the “intellectual depth” he displayed in Mr. Goldberg’s interview.
Meanwhile, the New York Times issued on its front page a dispatch of Elisabeth Malkin detailing the younger Castro’s plan to fire “more than half million” public sector employees – a step representing the “clearest sign yet that economic change is gathering pace” in Cuba.
Trouble is, the Times story, filed from Mexico City, showed scant evidence that any of the changes described in it were actually taking place beyond reports in Granma and other state-owned press outlets or official statements from state-sanctioned workers unions.
“These are things that they’re constantly announcing that they’re going to do,” said the former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda. But the record in the last four years – since Fidel’s ailment forced Raul to take over as president – shows that “none of it ever really happens,” said Mr. Castaneda, a long-time Cuba watcher whom I have known for years because he is my cousin and who, in any event, has clashed with the Castro brothers on many occasions.
The elder Mr. Castro’s interviews may seem like a repudication of much of his 50 years in power, but, as Mr. Parrilla’s speech shows, they – and reports disseminated by the government’s own propaganda organs – do not indicate any real change in Havana’s ideology or policies.
They’re mostly designed to end a situation in which, in Mr. Parrilla’s words, “for all American citizens or foreigners residing in that country, traveling to Cuba continues to be illegal.” Cuba is starved for an American cash infusion, which it hopes would save its economy from collapse. Mr. Parrilla said here that Washington hasn’t revolutionized its policies under President Obama despite Havana’s hopes.