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By Georgie Anne Geyer
WASHINGTON -- There is something a little strange about taking some hundreds, probably soon thousands, of al-Qaida prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. No, it is not just strange; it is downright spooky -- but perhaps it is also, even subconsciously, meant as a slap in the face to the Cuban regime. For the United States is doing the transporting, right? The prisoners are shackled and hooded, right? Dangerous compadres, right? They should surely be taken to a place where terrorism is far away. And yet, taking the prisoners to the American base called "Gitmo" -- which the U.S. has occupied on the easternmost end of Cuba since 1903 and against the enraged will of Cuban President Fidel Castro since 1959 -- is in many ways like taking them right into the lion's mouth. In the 1950s, for instance, when Fidel was plotting his revolution in Mexico and Cuba, the Cuban revolutionary leader himself pioneered many of the guerrilla and terrorist techniques that have swept and threatened the world. He kidnapped American servicemen within Cuba; he staged the first hijacking; he spread across Latin America, Asia and Africa the most lethal maxims of guerrilla warfare and terror to defeat the enemy, which was "imperialism" everywhere and the U.S. in particular. Ah, you might well say at this point, but that was all an experience of the past; those days are long gone.
Well, not quite. In fact, only early in December, President Castro enthusiastically hosted in Havana the 10th annual meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum, an international coalition of leftist and anti-American groups that includes members from the Colombian narco-guerrilla groups the FARC and the ELN, the Peruvian MRTA, the Chilean MIR, as well as from Iraq and Libya, two governments long involved with terror and so cited by the U.S. government. Not only did this forum vociferously criticize American "imperialism," which "since Sept. 11 has found another pretext to extend its power throughout the world, resulting in its traditional trail of violence, hunger, sickness and death," but on a larger scale, Fidel Castro's considerable biotechnology program has come under increasing suspicion. There are now too many testimonies -- from former Soviet scientists, as well as others -- that Castro is developing bioterrorism capacities and even selling some to Iran not to believe them. (In fact, when the Cuban president visited Iran last May, one of the things he said was, "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees.") So what are we to make of this new development -- where the United States, seemingly victorious in a war against very real terrorism half a world away -- is now actually transporting those dangerous men to a hostile island with its own terrorist history? The most surprising thing is that Cuban President Fidel Castro publicly has welcomed the Afghan prisoners. At least, he has said he has "no objection" to their presence. But this is surely only one of his acceptances of things he cannot change, for suddenly new waves of the sea-change war against terrorism are breaking around him. One of the new scandals involving Cuba occurred only recently when IRA (Irish Revolutionary Army) officials based in Havana were found in Colombia instructing the Colombian narco-guerrillas in urban warfare. Not only would this mark a totally new stage for the rural-based Colombian guerrillas, but IRA political leader Gerry Adams also just made a personal visit to Havana, obviously to coordinate plans. Ah, but this is not the end of the story, either, for in these same days that the Afghan prisoners were being transported to Guantanamo, the until-now hesitant Colombian President Andres Pastrana suddenly declared his own patient negotiations with his guerrillas at an end! We are clearly at a new point in the entire saga, the next act in the terrorist drama, in which the "play" has moved to secondary, but related, conflicts: the Philippines, for instance, probably Somalia and Yemen, and now the Caribbean. It is unclear now whether the United States, which has been supporting Colombian President Pastrana in his fight against the narco-guerrillas, urged him to move at this time. But this week, when he threatened to move immediately to take over the large part of Colombian land he had given the guerrillas to encourage them to make peace, it was clear that a new stage had opened there, too. Meanwhile, the United States was using Guantanamo because it still is officially Cuban, not American, land; that fact eliminates many questions about the rights of prisoners and detainees. In a piece of great political irony, Fidel, who always saw his island as a safe base to threaten the world, must surely feel the world closing in on him in ways he never imagined.