Albion Monitor /Commentary
[Editor's note: as recently as mid-June, both Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon strongly criticized the United States for its attempts to impose the Helms-Burton Act on Cuba. For more background on who benefits from the boycott, see this earlier article in the Albion Monitor.]

Cuba Faces International Boycott

by Dalia Acosta

(IPS) HAVANA -- Cuba's downing of two civilian airplanes on February 24 achieved in one day what the United States had sought unsuccessfully for decades: the isolation of Havana.

The new Helms-Burton law forbidding trade with Cuba has been widely condemned, but the so-called "airplane crisis" could end in international sanctions against Cuba dictated by the United Nations.

This predicament seems paradoxical for local observers. On the one hand, Cuba has the broad support of the international community against attempts by the United States to broaden its economic blockade. On the other hand, the country remains totally isolated in its decision to act against the violation of its borders.

Cuba, whether right or wrong, would be the biggest loser

Five months after the February incident, a committee of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has begun deliberations in Montreal, Canada.

ICAO has not yet officially released its final technical evaluation but leaked reports indicate it will reflect the United States' version of the events, accusing Cuba of downing the civilian planes outside of its territorial waters.

Miguel Alfonso, spokesman for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, maintained that his country reserved for itself the right to accept or reject the ICAO report, given publication in the United States of the main contents of the document's preliminary version.

Cuba has maintained that the clash between the Cuban Air Force's MIG 29s and the Cessnas belonging to the Cuban exile organization "Brothers to the Rescue," occurred during one of the organization's usual incursions into the island's airspace. Four pilots aboard the civilian aircraft were killed in the incident.

Havana insists that the downing of the planes occurred in Cuban waters after the appropriate mandatory warnings were issued, and has presented technical equipment and navigation charts, supposedly picked up near the coast, as proof.

But the United States argues that the incident occurred in international waters and accuses Havana of not issuing sufficient warning to the pilots before proceeding with the attack.

ICAO's preliminary report, which leaned toward the United States' version, sparked protest from Cuba's permanent delegate to the United Nations, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

"There was never an interest in investigating anything, only in condemning Cuba from the very beginning," said Ricardo Alarcon, president of the parliament and head of the Cuban delegation that travelled to Canada for a meeting between Cuban and U.S. officials and the ICAO committee.

Alarcon told reporters in Montreal that the Cuban mission withdrew from a technical meeting on June 20 because the other parties refused to consider its objections to the report.

"Cuba will demand that the IATA consider the truth and not allow itself to be pressured by the United States," said Alarcon, adding that if "the lie" against Cuba persisted, it would only tarnish ICAO's reputation.

ICAO took over the investigation of the case on the mandate of the U.N. Security Council, which on February 27 issued a non-binding declaration lamenting the incident.

Cuba's official media interpreted the ICAO's preliminary draft as one more maneuver on the part of the United States to achieve a condemnation of Cuba in the U.N., and the possible application of international sanctions against the Caribbean country.

If, in the end, the ICAO rules against Cuba, it will confirm local experts' predictions issued in March, which maintained that Cuba, whether right or wrong, would be the biggest loser in the airplane crisis.

Cuban ultra-right wing in Miami is the victor

Researchers at the Center for Studies of the United States (CESEU) in Havana asserted that the winner in this case was the Cuban ultra-right wing in Miami, which was able to regain lost terrain in U.S. policy towards Cuba.

The Cuban decision to shoot down the planes put a halt to a slow thaw in bilateral relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which gained ground after the signing of agreements in May 1995 putting an end to the illegal emigration of Cubans.

The frequent visits to the island of delegations of businessmen, Congressional representatives, and even retired military personnel from the United States last year led many analysts to think that an end to the blockade was near.

That hypothesis fits in with one Cuban line of thinking that maintains that the U.S. blockade has consolidated president Fidel Castro's political positions in the island, rather than weakened it.

Nevertheless, according to CESEU studies, Cuban authorities don't expect the blockade to be lifted any time soon, and that the Helms-Burton law will pass anyway before the presidential elections in the United States next November.

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Albion Monitor July 13, 1996 (

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