HAVANA — An indignant Fidel Castro used a live television appearance Monday night to respond to White House charges that his government encourages child prostitution.
Speaking in the central province of Villa Clara on a national holiday marking 51 years since he launched his revolution, Castro depicted President Bush as “sinister” and his charges as “irresponsible statements by the president of the most powerful nation on the planet.”
Bush earlier this month accused Castro of welcoming sex tourism to bolster his failing economy and contributing to a global problem of human trafficking.
Speaking to Florida law enforcement officials on July 16, Bush claimed the Cuban leader shamelessly promotes sex tourism.
“The dictator welcomes sex tourism. Here’s how he bragged about the industry,” said Bush. “This is his quote — ‘Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world’ and ‘sex tourism is a vital source of hard currency.’”
The president made his accusations amid the release of the State Department yearly report on global human trafficking, which lists Cuba among the top ten violators.
Three days after Bush’s remarks, the Los Angeles Times reported that the White House found the comments in a Dartmouth undergraduate paper posted on the Internet and lifted them out of context. “It shows they didn’t read much of the article,” commented Charlie Trumbull, the author.
Speaking in 1992 to the Cuban parliament, Castro actually said, “There are prostitutes, but prostitution is not allowed in our country. There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist.”
Psychoanalysis from Castro
On Monday Castro demanded evidence for the attacks on his country. Castro questioned, “How it is possible that such unspeakable, foul slander is hurled against Cuba?”
The answer, said Castro, comes from inside the mind of the president —the subtitle to a book by psychoanalyst Dr. Justin Frank, called “Bush on the Couch.”
Castro quoted Frank, who delves into Bush’s professed bout with alcoholism and argues that his history of untreated alcohol abuse could impair his judgment.
Bush, charged Castro, could be having a difficult time “distinguishing between relevant and inconsequential information.”
Wayne Smith, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and veteran Foreign Service officer who served 6 years in Havana, argued that a government crackdown in 1998 stemmed the “rampant” prostitution that erupted across the island following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
According to Smith, prostitution “is not longer any more of a problem in Cuba than it is in…the United States.” Cuba after the revolution
Smith, an advocate of normalizing relations with Havana, also takes umbrage over Bush’s assertion that Cuba has “replaced Southeast Asia as a destination for pedophiles” and that new controversial travel restrictions to the island aim at curtailing the sexual exploitation of children.
Prostitution attack — another attempt to woo voters?
Bush’s new rules, that took effect June 30, limit Cuban Americans to one visit home every three years, eliminate humanitarian permission to attend funerals or visit dying relatives, and remove extended family like aunts, uncles and cousins from the list of government-approved relatives. Violators are subject to a $65,000 fine.
“What does restricting Cuban-Americans to one visit every three years have to do with reducing prostitution?” asked Smith. “Is Mr. Bush suggesting that their real purpose was not to visit their families on the island but to engage in sex tourism?”
Smith is among the Cuba-watchers who believe that Bush’s strident policy is designed to capture the Cuban American vote this November in the critical state of Florida.
Mary Murray is an NBC News producer based in Havana.