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A police state is as a police state does

In the distance, we can see the buildings housing more than 600 prisoners in wire-mesh, single-cell cages. None of the detainees has been charged with any crime. But all are being held indefinitely, possibly for the rest of their lives, without any right to a trial or even legal counsel.


by Joel McNally

Perhaps our annoyance was beginning to show as our bags were searched for the third time and metal detectors were run over our bodies once more just before boarding the plane at Miami International Airport. The security agent explained: "Well, you are traveling to a terrorist country, you know."

The remark seemed particularly amusing when we arrived at Santiago, Cuba, and our bags were sniffed by an exuberant cocker spaniel puppy instead of the steel-jawed German shepherds that respond to guttural German commands by sheriff's deputies at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport.

But now we are seeing what it really would be like to live in a totalitarian police state. We are on a Cuban military overlook gazing through one of those coin-operated viewing machines that usually provide close-ups of the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Only this time we are seeing a military concentration camp.

In the distance, we can see the buildings housing more than 600 prisoners in wire-mesh, single-cell cages. None of the detainees has been charged with any crime. But all are being held indefinitely, possibly for the rest of their lives, without any right to a trial or even legal counsel.

We are on Cuban soil, but it is not a Cuban prison camp. It is the notorious Camp X-Ray, operated by the U.S. military at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The base is surrounded by more than 70,000 land mines. If you move the viewer to the right of the prison compound, you see the ultimate symbol of U.S. occupation, an 18-hole golf course.

Camp X-Ray, which holds captives in the war on terrorism from Afghanistan and more than 30 other countries, was intentionally located on the no-man's land of Guantanamo so those detained would be out of the reach of the laws-and legal rights-of any nation, including our own.

The U.S. has occupied Guantanamo Bay since the Spanish-American War. In 1934, we began an open-ended lease that can be terminated only by mutual agreement of the U.S. and Cuba, or unilaterally by the U.S. For the 45 square miles dominating Cuba's second-largest bay, we pay the country $4,085 a year. Since the Cuban revolution, President Fidel Castro has pointedly refused to cash our paltry checks.

In a 10-day visit to Santiago, Havana, Baracoa, Nuevitas and small villages across Cuba, our group of 20 from Milwaukee talked with government officials, professionals and ordinary people in the streets. They are aware of the 40 years of U.S. government hostility that is lampooned on billboards showing Uncle Sam shaking his fist and growling at tiny Cuba. But they couldn't be friendlier or more welcoming to us as Americans.

The official highlight of the trip, coordinated by Raul Galvan, of the Milwaukee Nuevitas Association, was the signing of a sister-city agreement between Milwaukee and the small industrial port city of Nuevitas.

Three Latino members of Milwaukee city government-Daisy Cubias, a staff assistant representing Mayor John Norquist; Ald. Angel Sanchez, and Ernesto Baca, a member of the Fire and Police Commission-signed the agreement for Milwaukee in a ceremony at a port office that included the presentation of American and Milwaukee flags and rum toasts.

But the most memorable diplomacy throughout the trip was person-to-person. Sanchez, an outgoing, friendly politician, campaigned among locals everywhere we went. At a visit to an elementary school, our arrival was cheered by 900 schoolchildren lining the outdoor balconies on every floor. In a welcoming ceremony, children read the poetry of Cuban hero Jose Marti and sang a nationalistic version "Guantanamara" with a special chorus to "Fidel! Fidel!"

Our delegation delivered sports equipment to the school, as well as medical supplies to a local hospital. Cuba's free education system-up to and including college and free medical care for all its citizens-is the pride of the country. So, clearly, are the extremely clean streets in every town and even in dilapidated neighborhoods of Havana, filled with spiffed-up cars still running from the '40s and '50s.

Cuban paranoia about the U.S. is based on history, as well as the effects of the current U.S. trade embargo, which has become a convenient scapegoat for everything the Cubans don't have. A university history professor wonders aloud if Cuba would be next if President Bush succeeds in replacing the government of Iraq just because he doesn't like its leader.

Cuba clearly has made economic progress from the starvation depths of a decade ago, when it lost the financial support of the collapsing Soviet Union. It has entered into joint ventures to develop tourist resorts with Canadian, Italian and Scandinavian companies. It has even begun exploring for oil, which some believe could end the U.S. embargo once and for all.

That has led to a joke Cubans tell about Fidel Castro getting good news and bad news. The good news: "We've discovered oil!" The bad news: "The Yankees are coming!"

http://www.shepherd-express.com


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