14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 January 2019 – The center of attention has shifted abruptly for the Cuban authorities. A few weeks before a complex constitutional referendum, with an economy taking on water everywhere, Havana is now embroiled in a bitter dispute with the government of Colombia. The bout between the Plaza of the Revolution and the Nariño Palace looks like it might go on for a while.
After the terrorist attack that left 20 dead and 68 wounded in Bogota, President Ivan Duque has insisted that Havana hand over the ten members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) peace delegation that remain on the island. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has responded with a technicality that raised more doubts than certainties.
According to the foreign minister in his Twitter account, “Cuba will act in strict respect with the Peace Dialogue Protocols signed between the Government and the ELN,” should negotiations break down. The Colombian side replied that “there is no protocol that protects terrorism,” and Havana added fuel to the fire by insisting that it has never permitted nor will it permit its territory to be used for the organization of terrorist acts.
But the precedents of these last six decades belie these assertions. If the history of recent years is reviewed, it is easy to conclude that the island’s authorities will avoid handing over the guerrillas at all costs. It is very unlikely that this case will put an end to the government’s long history of protection for fugitives and criminals. It is unthinkable that, asked to choose between two loyalties, it will end up choosing to please Duque.
Dozens of members of the Basque separatist group ETA, involved in assassinations and with a long criminal history in Spain, have been hiding on the island for decades. Joanne Chesimard is also living in Cuba’s capital city; known here as Assata Shakur, she is on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists after having killed a policeman. The famous thief Robert Vesco found refuge under the skirts of the Cuban Revolution after stealing more than 200 million dollars.
This “solidarity” with criminals and terrorists is based on two pillars. The first of these was established from the first years Fidel Castro came to power and expressed support for any movement or person who shares anti-capitalist, communist ideas and supports subverting the established order in their country of origin. The second obeys the maxim that “the enemy of my enemy” is always a friend to the Cuban regime.
Under these two premises, the authorities have welcomed any and all international criminals who have requested refuge after showing a record of harm against the institutions of the United States, the governments of Latin America and the law enforcement agencies of the countries most critical of the human rights situation in Cuba. Hosting these “unpresentables” has been an act of political revenge, a challenge to international justice and a mockery of the victims.
Criminals who have escaped from other countries have not only found here a place to avoid ending up in front of a court, but most have enjoyed a standard of living far superior to that of most Cubans. In mansions, with bodyguards and a good supply of food, many of these delinquents on-the-run have led a life well away from the narrow cell they deserved.
In the case of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), the “hospitality” has meant that as of 10:00 am this Monday, the official press has still not published a word about the statement made by the guerilla group taking responsibility for the terrorist attack against the Police Cadet School in Colombia. Not only has the government given them shelter, but it has also offered them the complicity of its silence.
Why would the Government of Cuba now act differently with these fugitives? Increasingly isolated in the region, with the so-called “historic generation” clearly in biological withdrawal, and a system that can not lift Cuba’s 11 million people out of a quagmire, Havana should respond affirmatively to Bogota’s request, to make it clear that the times of support for criminals have ended.
However, to believe that something like this is possible is equated to the frog’s dream that the scorpion who helps him cross the river will not sting him. Even though it is sinking in the waters of disrepute and diplomatic solitude, sheltering terrorists is in Castroism’s nature.
Editor’s Note: A shorter version of this text was published by Deutsche Welle.
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