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LAS AMERICAS Our Man in Havana . . . and Managua . . . and Port-au-Prince.. . BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE March 1998 Washington is full of shadowy figures with shadowy pasts. One of the more sinister ones is named Noriega. Not everyone favorite Panamanian Noriega, who still in the slammer in Florida rather Roger Noriega, Jesse Helms’ staff director for Latin American affairs, narcotics and terrorism,. Jesse lumps these things together since, as far as he concemecZ they’re all pretty much the same. It’s a big job, and Roger has been more visible than usual lately. He showed up most recently in Cuba, of all places, where he had gone to see the Pope, to gether with Marc Thiessen, the spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Helms chairs. Oddly, Roger and his fellow travelers were deeply impressed by His Holiness’ displeasure with the thirtysix-year U.S. embargo of Cuba, and came straight home to do something about it. By early March, they had done it. Roger released their report and a proposal for humanitarian aid to Cuba. He also made it clear that no one should construe the initiative as an attempt to weaken the existing U.S. embargo of Cuba. According to his report, Roger is only recommending aid in order to alleviate “the misery that the regime imposes as a means of control.” As evidence, he reports that Cuba has become a favored destination for sex tourists availing themselves of widespread prostitution. Although Roger’s report acknowledges that many poorer Caribbean countries tolerate rampant prostitution, the Cuban case is especially poignant, because the prostitutes are doctors and lawyers, “forced to sell their bodies in order to feed their families.” In Roger’s expert estimation, prostituted lawyers suffer more acutely from degradation than waitresses or cleaning ladies who are forced to sell themselves not to mention just plain drug addicts and street children, for whom it’s apparently as easy as falling off a log. Canada, which sends more than 170,000 tourists a year to Cuba, responded angrily to the report. The Honourable Lloyd Ax worthy, Minister of Foreign Relations, argued that Canadians visit Cuba for its beaches and to escape the Arctic winter. He suggested that Roger and his friends seemed unusually preoccupied with sex in Cuba, and that the U.S. Congress might look into their travel expense claims. “Although they went to Cuba on the occasion IN ROGER’S EXPERT ESTIMATION, PROSTITUTED LAWYERS SUFFER MORE ACUTELY FROM DEGRADATION THAN WAITRESSES OR CLEANING LADIES WHO ARE FORCED TO SELL THEMSELVES. of the Pope’s visit, I don’t believe they were attending Mass,” His Excellency observed, and went on to say that a primary cause of poverty in Cuba is the embargo imposed by the United States. “If Jesse Helms and his collaborators are upset by commercial sex in Cuba, they ought to put an end to the commercial embargo.” Noriega’s report is very peculiar. In something of a non sequitur, it also accuses the Cuban government of a compulsory abortion policy. No one is quite sure where Roger heard this or why he included it, and observers agree that if it were true, the Pope probably would have mentioned it himself. s it turns out, though, Roger has been around Latin American propaganda, affairs, narcotics, and prostitution for a long time. Also embargoes. Back in the eighties, he was known in certain Washington circles as Mr. Contra. In those days, he was the State Department’s AID spokesman for the “non-lethal aid” to the Contras’ program in Central America. So “humanitarian aid” for the neediest Cubans is right up his alley. Together with his report on Cuban sex sales, Roger drafted a proposal to provide as much as $100 million in food and medical aid to the embargoed island. Given the economic problems in the country, particularly the food shortages and lack of medical and pharmaceutical supplies, this seems a generous gesture from both Mr. Helms and Mr. Noriega. Not surprisingly, it really isn’t. Roger popped a poison pill into an earlier version of the draft legislation, in the form of who gets aid and how they get it. According to the draft, supplies for political prisoners and their families would be given priority, and all aid would be distributed through the Catholic Church and the American Red Cross. A focus on political prisoners made the package immediately unpalatable to Castro. And although the Church .isn’t necessarily a problem, the Red Cross is. Castro has never permitted it to operate in Cuba, and he continues to prohibit it. First of all, the American Red Cross has always been a virtual United States government subsidiary, with the U.S. president serving as the Honorary Chairman and appointing eight members of the Board of Governors. Then, of course, there is the Red Cross president herself, Elizabeth Dole. Her less-charming husband, Bob, announced during his ’96 U.S. presidential campaign that “the only way to deal with Castro’s tyranny is with real firmness and pressure.” For good measure, wife Liddy staffed the upper administrative levels of 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 22, 1998