- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

Cuban President Fidel Castro kicked off his annual May Day jubilee on Wednesday by celebrating himself. And in so doing, Mr. Castro described a Cuba unknown to the rest of the world. Cuba is "by a long shot, the most democratic country on the globe," he said. It is also "the most independent on the planet, the most just and with the most solidarity," he gushed, perhaps making himself blush under his beard. Indeed, Mr. Castro's observations regarding his island fiefdom were remarkably original.

Mr. Castro has been given plenty of motivation to soothe his own embattled ego lately. He is finding himself increasingly isolated with only captive Cubans to laud him on cue. While the forlorn Fidel was no doubt cheered by the throngs of Cubans who marched out to show their support for their all-powerful patriarch, the cigar-chewing leader would so appreciate it if someone would praise him out of their own free will.

Instead, he has increasingly become an unsightly anachronism in his own neighborhood. Late last month, Uruguay became the first Latin American country to sponsor a U.N. resolution calling on Cuba to improve its human-rights record. And for the first time, Mexico, which has long been an ally of Cuba, signed on to the resolution. Mr. Castro responded with the melodrama of a jilted lover, accusing Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle of being a "hung-over, abject Judas." Mr. Batlle cut diplomatic ties with Cuba the next day, claiming Cuba's insults "continued to escalate in tone." Uruguay has since restored its relations with the Caribbean island.

But Mr. Castro felt even greater scorn by the slight of his longtime friend, and therefore sought a more orchestrated revenge. Shortly after Mexico voted in favor of the human-rights resolution regarding Cuba, Mr. Castro released a tape of what was presumed to be a confidential conversation between himself and Mexican President Vicente Fox. Mr. Castro maintained that, since the conversation was "not a love letter," it was subject to public airing. In the tape, Mr. Fox asks Mr. Castro not to hang around too long at the U.N. development summit in Monterrey, Mexico, to prevent him from awkwardly coming across President Bush and to refrain from badmouthing Mr. Bush. Mr. Castro's abrupt departure from the U.N. summit had been quite a mystery and a source of much speculation. Mr. Fox had long insisted he didn't pressure Mr. Castro to leave, and the fallout of the tape's airing has caused Mr. Fox political woes at home.

As long as Mr. Castro continues to preside over Cuba through repression and tyranny, he will continue to find himself discarded by democratically elected leaders. But he can always sing hollow accolades to himself and force Cubans to listen.

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