Even as statues of Saddam Hussein were tumbling in Iraq, Fidel Castro was demonstrating to Cubans that their dictator was still very much in charge.
Castro capped an active week of repression, which saw scores of dissidents being dealt stiff prison sentences, with a live-fire exhibition in which three men who hijacked a ferry were taken out and shot. This raw display of brutality surprised many who thought the aging despot was gradually mellowing.
Wayne Smith, top U.S. diplomat in Havana during the Carter administration, thought Castro was spooked by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, figuring he would be the next item on President Bush's agenda.
But Miami-based author and academic Jaime Suchlicki, an expert on Cuban affairs, believes Castro merely used Iraq as a timely cover for a long-planned crackdown. Suchlicki wrote that Castro, in deteriorating health and worried that his Communist revolution could die with him, is crushing opposition to pave the way for a smooth transfer of power to his brother, Raul.
In any case, Castro's flashy display of muscle could end up costing Cuba dearly. U.S. officials say Bush will soon unveil sanctions against direct flights to the island and financial contributions from Cuban exiles to their families, which total millions of dollars.
These steps will naturally hurt Castro less than his oppressed people. But varying degrees of suffering comprises the truest, most basic reality of life in Cuba. This month's crackdown is only the latest example of that.
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