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Fidel Castro, Bioterrorism and the Elusive Quote

Castro, Bioterrorism and the State Department

by Nelson P. Valdes

Last May 6, John R. Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, gave a presentation at the conservative Heritage Foundation entitled "Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction." Bolton’s thesis was based on two basic points: First, that Cuba had the capacity to produce bio-products that could be used for terrorist against the U.S. And secondly, that the Cuban government had announced its commitment to do precisely so. The scientific community throughout the world, as well as newspapers and former President Jimmy Carter from Cuba, had challenged the Bush administration to show the evidence. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, even had to downplay Bolton’ s charges.

However, no one has questioned Bolton’s accusation that the Cuban government actually wants to bring harm to the United States. The Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security said that last year, Fidel Castro visited Iran, Syria and Libya and that "at Tehran University, these were his words: ‘Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees. The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up.’"

One would assume that the United States government with all of its monitoring capabilities would be able to produce those words. Well, Fidel Castro never said those words either in Teheran or anywhere else. I have secured all the transcripts of all the public statments made by the Cuban leader while visiting Iran, and there is nothing that midly resembles the alleged quote. Mr. Bolton, nonetheless, has recycled an invented and false quote that has been used by rightwing Cuban exiles in the last 12 months.

I have been particularly interested in that quote because I have studied Cuba in general and Fidel Castro in particular since 1969. The so-called quote simply did not fit with his political style nor his syntax. Moreover, I am the director at the University of New Mexico of the Program of Academic research on Cuba, and I also preside over the non-profit organization Cuba research & Analysis Group. Both institutions produce a daily service that monitors information on Cuba. Thus, when Fidel Castro went to the Middle East we monitored the media from there as well as from Cuba.

Neither the Iranian news service (IRNA), nor the Cuban media carried the alleged Castro statement. Nor could it be found in files of the BBC Monitoring Service or the U.S. government’s Foreign Broadcasts Information Service.

The Nuevo Herald in Miami published the AFP version (attributing it to AP) with the title "CASTRO PRONOSTICA EN IRAN LA CAIDA DE EU" (Castro Forecasts the Downfall of the US). It then made the rightwing press circuit. And by October 10, 2001 Nancy San Martin in the Miami herald cited the quote. I wrote to her at the time to secure a source. She replied, "You may be interested in the UM paper, which also was included in the article and can easily be obtained from the Institute for Cuban & Cuban American Studies." Thus, I contacted the University of Miami and the above mentioned "Institute" (which just received one million dollars from the Bush administration). From the Institute I received the paper Castro and Terrorism – A Chronology written by by Eugene Pons with a foreword by Jaime Suchlicki (director of the Institute). On the front page the famous quote appeared. The source provided was Agence France Presse, May 10, 2001.

Actually AFP had two different cables with the quote one sent on May 9th and another on the 10th. When I asked the Institute to provide me with an original Spanish version, I received a note that stated that "As you are probably aware, many news sources from Cuba have modified their original publications to meet current anti-terrorism/violence issues, therefore making it much harder to track down" – which is, to say the least a very odd explanation. After all, print materials do not disappear from libraries and the Google in the Internet has a nifty procedure called "cache" that allows you to see pages that have been deleted. Obviously the story was getting ever more interesting.

With the exception of the two cables from AFP, none of the wire services represented in Iran at the time carried such a statement from Fidel Castro. Although I have contacted AFP they have not provided evidence that the quote was accurate, nor do we know yet the identity of the person who wrote the story. Did he/she understand Spanish while stationed in Teheran?

On May 10, 2002 from Havana President Fidel Castro, went on record to deny that he ever made the statement attributed to him. Who is historically accurate? John Bolton or Fidel Castro? Tne answer is clear: Fidel castro is accurate. But the question then is, how come the Under Secretary of State used a quote that obviously the intelliegnce service knew Fidel castro did not make?

Jimmy Carter asked the Under Secretary to offer evidence of the charge that Cuba was involved in bio-terrorism, perhaps we could add our humble request that he also provide us with the original recording that shows Fidel Castro stating that he wants to bring the United States to its knees. The evidence does not exist.

Nelson P Valdes is a professor of Sociology University of New Mexico. He can be reached at: nvaldes@unm.edu