- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro will be speaking today at the U.N.'s Millennium Summit, which has been touted as the largest gathering of heads of state in history. The event promises to be a contest of egos. In preparation for Fidel's visit, the Cuban government began discussing security arrangements with the U.S. Secret Service and the New York Police Department several days ago.

The security is a good idea. Fidel's four-decade-old habit of committing brutal human rights abuses has surely generated some ill will. Fortunately for Fidel, the human rights community is mostly greeting the dictator's visit with silence.

Fidel should also be very thankful that while in the United States, he won't have to endure the same type of treatment he gives some visitors to his island empire. Elizabeth Riachi, a Cuban-American teacher from Detroit, is only too familiar with that treatment. When she flew to Cuba to bury the ashes of her deceased common law husband, she and her three U.S.-born children were immediately detained, her U.S. passport was seized and she was declared a Cuban citizen.

Miss Riachi and her children were held without food, water or access to a bathroom overnight. After she had buried her loved one, she was barred for days from leaving Havana. It was only after Miss Riachi threatened to get the U.S. State Department's help that she was allowed to leave. The incident is alarming on its face and ironic considering Fidel's claims that Elian Gonzalez had been "kidnapped" in the United States.

Nothing of this sort will happen to Fidel in the United States, since most Americans will be only too happy to see him go, unless of course, he prolongs his stay behind bars. New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani has made abundantly clear his dislike of Cuba's despot. "Fidel Castro is a murderer," said the mayor. "America should not fool itself into thinking he is some kind of benign dictator. The whole reinvention of Fidel Castro is part of this philosophy that has misled America in the past," he added.

It is a shame that more politicians and world leaders haven't taken a similar stand. Regardless of politicians' differing opinions concerning the embargo on Cuba, they must continue to speak out against Fidel's repression. Fidel wasn't democratically elected and he propagates his own power through bare-knuckled coercion. He can't be allowed to pose as a legitimate ruler.

A 1947 U.N. rule requires the United States to grant visas to officials attending official U.N. functions. The agreement allows the United States to deny requests for national security reasons, which the State Department decided not to invoke in this case. So be it. But at the very least, U.S. taxpayer money shouldn't be used to protect such an awful man.

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