- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

HAVANA A retired U.S. Army general said yesterday he talked for 12 hours with Fidel Castro and encouraged the Cuban president to release 250 political prisoners in this island's jails in an effort to encourage dialogue with the United States.
Gen. Barry McCaffrey, now a university professor visiting the island with the Center for Defense Information, told a news conference that Cuba did not present a military risk to the United States. "They represent zero threat to the United States," he said.
The general said he told Cuban authorities during meetings on Saturday that the United States did not present a military risk to the island, either. He said he also met with Mr. Castro's younger brother, Gen. Raul Castro, Cuba's defense minister.
Gen. McCaffrey said he supported increased cooperation between the United States and Cuba in the areas of drug interdiction and fighting terrorism.
"I see no evidence at all that the Cubans are in any way facilitating drug trafficking," the former White House drug policy director said. "Indeed, I see good evidence of the opposite. I strongly believe that Cuba is an island of resistance to drug traffic."
Some Cuban exile groups and conservative members of Congress in the past have accused the communist country of involvement in the narcotics trade.
Gen. McCaffrey said he also did not believe that Cuba was a terrorist threat to the United States, as some Cuban exile groups insist. "I don't believe they are harboring terrorist organizations," he said.
Cuba remains on the State Department's terrorism watch list, primarily because of the presence on the island of some Basque separatists, former members of Puerto Rican nationalist groups, and a handful of American fugitives many of them former Black Panthers who have lived here for decades.
Both the United States and Cuba must change to help create a dialogue between the nations, the general said.
"It's time to leave the chasm of 1958-59 and move to 2002 on both sides," said Gen. McCaffrey.
The United States should care more about Latin America in general and Cuba in particular, he said, rather than allowing the Cuban-American community to control the political debate over the Caribbean island.
Cuba also should do more to improve communication with the United States, and releasing the political prisoners would be a good start, Gen. McCaffrey said. He did not say what Mr. Castro's response was, except that he received "an attentive and respectful hearing."


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