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'Invasion' Sparks Cuba Crackdown

As Castro reasserts control, controversy grows over role of US-based paramilitary groups

THIS week's firing-squad execution of a Cuban exile accused of leading a three-man commando team from Miami is a blow to moderates in Cuba and the United States, analysts say.

The infiltration team, which arrived Dec. 29 carrying guns and explosives, "provided the perfect external enemy" for Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz, says Gillian Gunn, Cuba specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

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The incident not only diverted attention from Cuba's economic woes, but also gave Mr. Castro a high-profile opportunity to reassert authority only weeks after three policemen were shot to death by disgruntled Cubans attempting to escape the communist island.

Just back from Cuba, Ms. Gunn quotes a leading dissident, Elizardo Sanchez, as being "terribly concerned" about the trend of events. The Cuban government claims the Miami "terrorists" carried the names of Havana-based activists, and it has escalated a crackdown - involving arrests and mob intimidation - against domestic opposition.

"These groups within Cuba which are stirring now and believe the moment has come to drive home the dagger into the nation where they were born by chance must know that they will not be given the least opportunity to do so," said a front-page editorial published Tuesday in Granma, the official government newspaper. Paramilitary groups

In Miami, amid the pleas for clemency (the death sentences of two of the three commandos were commuted to jail terms), there were also calls for Washington to fund further terrorist missions. The three men had trained with Alpha 66, a paramilitary group which practices mock invasions each weekend in Florida, although they were not members of the group.

The Cuban American National Foundation, a conservative lobby group, condemns such paramilitary organizations as "counterproductive." But spokesman Jose Cardenas notes "the momentum is growing in Congress to up the ante against Castro."

Rep. Robert Torricelli (D) of New Jersey, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, criticizes current US policy as being "stuck on automatic pilot." In early February, he plans to introduce legislation described as designed to "hasten the downfall of the Castro regime and to promote a peaceful, orderly transition to democracy."

The bill includes tightening the 30-year-old trade embargo by prohibiting US subsidiaries in foreign countries from doing business in Cuba, prohibiting tax deductions relating to that trade, and prohibiting ships that dock in Cuba from docking in US ports.

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But along with Mr. Torricelli's stick are some carrots. His bill proposes that the US assist dissidents and democratic organizations in Cuba, upgrade telephone and mail service, and allow the export of medicine to Cuba. Home-grown opposition

The Bush administration is likely to oppose this bill as it has a similar proposal by Sen. Connie Mack (R) of Florida. The main objection: Foreign nations don't appreciate the US Congress setting trade policy for corporations under their jurisdiction.

"The best thing the US could do to help the fledgling democracy movement in Cuba is to crack down ferociously on the paramilitary groups training in Florida," says Gunn. She says that might support internal dissidents' claims that they are a home-grown movement and not puppets of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Invasions against foreign countries launched from US soil are illegal under the Neutrality Act, but prosecution is difficult. "Shooting at make-believe Cubans and jumping over barricades isn't against the law," says a frustrated US official.

Lost amid this latest controversy was a possible diplomatic opening. On Jan. 12 at a seminar on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Castro said Cuba would no longer pursue a policy of international intervention. US officials have used Cuba's support for guerrilla movements in Latin America as justification for continuing the trade embargo.

Former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told reporters after the seminar: "We must get beyond the fear and hostility that has shaped our relations for 30 years."

But a US State Department official says the end of Cuba's special relationship with the Soviet Union and the stated nonintervention policy satisfy only two of the four requirements for lifting the embargo: "The democracy and human rights trends are going the wrong way."

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