Back in the eighties, amidst the Cold War, most policy analysts focused on Cuba as a potential international threat. The Heritage Foundation was among the many who made it a priority to point this out. But, once Cold War rhetoric dissipated (and with the Cuban economy left in ruins), it became a bit more difficult for hard-liners to continue painting Cuba as a potential threat to the US (or its neighbors). By 1998, US intelligence and defense agencies agreed that the Cuban military had been weakened and fit only for self-defense measures. But, some hard-liners have remained committed to argue that Cuba is still a threat to the US (some by recalling events from the Cold War). It's a simple and convenient image of Cuba as the enemy, and the US as the potential (and perhaps innocent) victim. This manipulation serves many political interests, but carries very dangerous consequences. As the US embargo continues to be dismantled, its supporters are likely to become desperate in their accusations against the Cuban government, potentially exploiting the current fears of the general public.
Last month, Frank Calzon from the Center for a Free Cuba appeared on the Diane Rehm Show with US Secretary of State Carlos Gutierrez. They made sure to remind the public that Cuba is still an enemy of the US.
Calzon: "The policy of the United States [towards Cuba] is driven by American interests. To come and say that it's not a concession to provide [Fidel] Castro with additional resources at a time when Cuba AND Venezuela are playing such a significant role in organizing and orchestrating against the United States in Latin America I think is missing the whole picture."
Sec. Gutierrez: "[Through the US embargo] We have denied resources to a regime that has declared itself from the very beginning an enemy of the US, and that has shown that any time they do have resources they will use them for means that are not in the interest of the US; whether it be overseas guerrilla groups or terrorist organizations or wars in Africa... But, one thing we will never know is what would [Fidel] Castro have been like, and what damage would he have done, had he had resources, and that's something we have prevented through our policy."
Of course, these comments are manipulations of the facts. Whenever a hard-liner makes an accusation about any enemy country they usually first set aside difficult realities because if these realities are actually spoken hard-line rhetoric is reduced to absurdity. Sec. Gutierrez realized this on the Diane Rehm Show after he made the mistake of incorporating facts with rhetoric.
Sec. Gutierrez: "So the President's policy has always been to support the people of Cuba, but not to support the regime. And we recognize that anything we do to support the regime, anything we do to help them, will just cement their power and their ability to repress the Cuban people. Now, I will say this, that we [the US] today supply about one-third of [Cuba's] food and medicine. The second source of revenue in Cuba is remittances from Cuban-Americans in Miami. So, ironically we have helped them more than we will ever get credit for, but we're not looking for that, but we have helped them a lot throughout the years."
Therefore, according to Sec. Gutierrez, Cuba is still an enemy, and US policy denies them resources, but our policy also "helps" them to "cement their power and their ability to repress the Cuban people." A repression which the US has helped with "a lot throughout the years." (Listen to the audio for a good laugh around the 30:00 mark.)
Facts are certainly a nuisance to hard-liners, especially when they are trying to accuse Cuba of being a threat to the US. The case of John Bolton, former US Undersecretary of State, is another example. In May 2002, he accused the Cuban government of having "at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort." His accusations made headlines as quickly as they attracted skepticism due to the obvious lack of evidence presented (in a speech at the Heritage Foundation). Analysts from the Center for Defense Information and the Center for International Policy quickly noted the manipulations made by Undersecretary Bolton. One month later, a Senate committee hearing provided sobering facts with testimony from Bolton's original source of intelligence: Carl Ford Jr., assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research. At the Senate hearing Ford said [PDF]:
"Among the various weapons of mass destruction, biological warfare [BW] is perhaps the most difficult to clearly identify absent unambiguous, reliable intelligence information. Owing to the dual use nature of the technology and materials used to support a BW program, in today's world many nations including Cuba have in place robust biotechnology infrastructures as some of the world's best scientific talent has turned to this avenue of modern science to promote medical and agricultural advances in their countries."
"The nature of biological weapons makes it difficult to procure clear, incontrovertible proof that a country is engaged in the illicit biological weapons research, production weaponization and stockpiling. Cuba's sophisticated denial and deception practices make our task even more difficult. That said, we have a sound basis for our judgment that Cuba has at least a limited developmental offensive biological warfare research and development effort."
In 2004, after no "weapons of mass destruction" were found in Iraq, the US Intelligence community adopted stricter standards of threat assessments and "concluded that it is no longer clear that Cuba has an active, offensive bio-weapons program."
The latest threat assessment [PDF] by the US Director of National Intelligence did not mentioned these "limited developmental" programs. On the other hand, US intelligence seems more concerned with Cuba's internal problems, in which they conclude that Cuba is "likely to remain stable at least in the initial months" with Raul Castro as the new president.
But some hard-liners today seem to have a new strategy to again inculcate fear into the public about Cuba. (Thanks again to the work of the Heritage Foundation.) And this time they don't need to worry much about presenting evidence, public paranoia is enough to work with.