Mixed Feelings in Havana

Cubans support Aristide's return to Haiti, but US activity in their vicinity worries them

CUBA supports Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return. There's no equivocation on that point. Citizens and officials here call him the rightful, democratically elected leader of Haiti.

For obvious reasons, Cuba isn't enamored with economic blockades as a tactic for behavior modification. But it's the sudden show of military might to enforce the embargo that makes Cubans particularly uneasy. The swarms of (mostly US) Naval vessels offshore and the gathering of United States troops on Cuban soil are not a welcome development.

``How would you feel if more than 600 enemy troops landed on your east coast?'' queries a party official.

The normal contingent of 2,200 military personnel at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base has been beefed up with an extra 600 US Marines. The Marines are there training for the possible evacuation of US citizens from Haiti. The Yankee outpost on Cuba's eastern flank, circumscribed by mine-fields and barbed wire, is about 90 miles from Port-au-Prince and makes for a convenient staging area for the ships enforcing the embargo.

In theory, Cuban officials understand that until Fr. Aristide's return was aborted, the presence of US ships and personnel was part of a United Nations-directed, humanitarian mission. But so was Somalia. Cubans know 600 US soldiers hardly constitute a threat to the 150,000 members of the Cuban armed forces. Still, the Haiti embargo coupled with the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Grenada (Oct. 25), another neighboring Caribbean island, provides Cubans with an occasion to remember how exposed they are to the whims of the only remaining superpower.

The presence of US troops serves to validate the siege mentality inculcated in the citizenry by the Cuban government.

For example, although construction materials are scarce here, a network of civil defense tunnels have been built on the island during the last several years. (While waiting for the ``big one'' -

a US attack, the dark caverns are being used to grow edible mushrooms.) At neighborhood government offices in Havana, there are posters with instructions about what to do in case of a bomb attack or poison gas attack. And recently, Cuban troops and citizen's militia held mock battles on Havana side streets as part of the annual National Defense Preparation Day.

Not everyone believes the preparations are necessary. ``I seriously doubt the US would invade. Why would the US want Cuba's problems?'' asks Raul, a bartender at a beachside hotel.

But Raul takes seriously the threats of militant Cuban exile groups in Florida. Earlier this month, a Mexican with US residency was caught at Cuba's Jose Marti International Airport, reportedly attempting to smuggle in grenades and other weapons. And, Alpha 66, a Florida militant group, warned tourists to stay away from Cuban resorts. A year ago, another exile group, Commandos L, strafed a Cuban beachfront hotel with machine gun fire.

The US Neutrality Act bans the launching of attacks on foreign countries from US soil. But US law enforcement officials say they have been largely unsuccessful in prosecuting recent Cuban militant cases.

Some might call Cuban distraction over unchecked US police action paranoia. Maybe so. But Cubans note that they are't the only ones worried. A recent edition of the official Cuban daily, Granma, quotes the foreign ministers of Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic as supporting the embargo against Haiti, but warning against any unilateral invasion of foreign territory. In this case, they mean Haiti. But given the record of US incursions, it's a principle devoutly shared in the hemsiphere.

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