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Last Updated: Friday, 25 April, 2003, 03:24 GMT 04:24 UK
Cuba's phoney war

Stephen Gibbs
In Havana

There has been international condemnation of Cuba's actions
Cuba blames its current clampdown on the US menace
On state television every night for the last 10 days, Cubans have been told in stark terms that their country is defending itself against the threat of war.

The argument goes that a power-crazed President Bush, fresh from his conquest of Iraq, is trying to create a situation of chaos on this communist-led island, which he will later use as a justification for a military assault.

The Cuban Government says that given this provocation, all the harsh measures it has employed over the last four weeks are justified.

The 75 dissident writers, economists and political activists it has imprisoned, it describes as "mercenaries" working for the United States.

The three hijackers who attempted to take a ferry boat to Florida had to be executed, say the Cubans, because something had to be done to stop a US-encouraged violent exodus from the island.

All these allegations are categorically denied by the United States Government.

But what do Cubans think? Do they believe they may soon find themselves being attacked by their northern neighbour?

Bay of Pigs

Age seems to play a part in this.

Of the Cubans I have been speaking to, many of those who are old enough to remember the US-backed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961 believe a military attack is a real possibility.

Younger Cubans, whose memories do not go that far back, see it as close to inconceivable.

It will be a bloody encounter, like when you put two boxers face-to-face in the ring. We will fight 15 rounds
Actor Alden Knight

Among the older Cubans are many of the veteran artists and musicians who recently wrote an open letter to the world's newspapers, calling for understanding as Cuba defends itself from the United States which, they say, is "preparing the ground for a military aggression".

I spoke to one, the actor Alden Knight.

We met in the beautiful gardens of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists.

It was a slightly surreal episode.

With a salsa band playing in the background, he talked, almost threateningly, about how he envisaged the war would be fought.

"It will be a bloody encounter", he said, "like when you put two boxers face-to-face in the ring. We will fight 15 rounds."

But a few blocks away, on Havana's Malecon, where the city meets the sea and younger Cubans' gather to watch the sunset, it is easy to find more sceptical voices.

One young fisherman said he thought that there was "no chance" the United States would launch a military strike.

"They are not afraid of us," he said, "and anyway, they think that we will fall apart by ourselves."

Another man, also afraid of being identified, said the idea was a "joke" dreamt up by Fidel Castro to prolong the fight with the US which has defined his 44-year rule.

Real victims

It is not a joke to those who have been most affected by this recent clampdown.

Why do they have to crack down on people who don't want to, and cannot, overthrow the government?
Miriam Leiva

Two weeks ago, Miriam Leiva's husband, the 62-year-old dissident economist Oscar Chepe, began a 20-year prison sentence.

He is convicted of being a traitor, in the pay of the United States.

"Why don't they solve their quarrels with the US?" she pleaded.

"Why do they have to crack down on people who don't want to, and cannot, overthrow the government?"

She is worried her frail husband may die in prison.

The threat of war here may be real, it may be phoney. But already, it is gathering its victims.

US group ends Cuba campaign
24 Apr 03  |  Americas
Cuba rejects call for UN envoy
18 Apr 03  |  Americas
Cuba defends dissident trials
10 Apr 03  |  Americas
Cuba ferry hijackers executed
11 Apr 03  |  Americas
US and Cuba's complex relations
09 May 02  |  Americas
Country profile: Cuba
11 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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