By Jack Holland
A prominent Cuban-American congressman has strongly condemned Gerry Adams four-day visit to Cuba, adding his voice to a growing chorus expressing concern which has been set off by Sinn Fein and the IRA’s recent Caribbean and South American adventures.
The condemnation from Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, came the same week as the chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, Henry Hyde, firmly rejected an appeal to halt inquiries into the alleged links between the IRA and what he called “Colombian narco-terrorists.”
Commenting on Adams’s visit last week to Cuba, during which he met with Fidel Castro, Diaz-Balart said Wednesday: “At this critical time when only Castro and Saddam Hussein are refusing to cooperate with the United States in the war on terrorism, the IRA is embracing Castro. Obviously, ideology outweighs common sense for them and many of us here in congress will not forget.”
Diaz-Balart’s response is said by senior congressional aides to be typical of the reaction in the Cuban-American community to the Adams’s handshake with Castro. The fourth-ranked Democrat in the house, New Jersey Rep. Robert Menendez, who for many years has been a prominent supporter of Sinn Fein in the U.S., is said to be “disappointed” about Adams’s visit, though he has yet to make a statement on the matter. In 1995, Menendez spoke at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis.
Among Irish-American congressmen, the response to the Cuban visit has also been critical. Long Island Republican Rep. Peter King, who for many years has been more strongly identified with Sinn Fein than perhaps any other member of the house, said last week: “It’s not fatal, but it hurts Sinn Fein here.” King said that Adams’s failure to condemn Cuba’s poor human rights record “tarnishes some of their credibility.”
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“They can’t make their case about human rights issues in Northern Ireland without visiting dissidents in Cuba,” he said.
A report by Amnesty International has described prison conditions in Cuban jails as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and has alleged that “journalists, political opponents and human rights defenders were subjected to severe harassment. Several hundred people, at least 13 of whom were prisoners of conscience, remain imprisoned for political offenses.”
The Wall Street Journal joined in the criticism. In an editorial on Dec. 20, it said that Adams’s remarks about Cuba displayed either “a proclivity for lying or the most astounding ignorance of the social and economic realities of the country he was visiting.” It denounced the alleged IRA involvement in Colombia, compared Adams to Yasser Arafat, and concluded: “It is time to have a clearer look at Gerry Adams.”
During the visit, Adams who was accompanied by Gerry Kelly, unveiled a memorial to the 10 hunger strikers who died protesting conditions in the Maze Prison in 1981. During the ceremony, a Cuban official was reported as launching a diatribe against the United States war in Afghanistan, which he described as “ethnic genocide.”
Adams has said that he believes that his trip “will not cause lasting damage to Sinn Fein’s U.S. support.” However, a senior congressional aide disagreed.
“Adams has a lot of problems here,” he told the Echo.
The aide was referring also to the allegations about the IRA’s role in training the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The allegations came in the wake of the arrest of three Irishmen in Bogota last August who have been linked to Sinn Fein and the IRA. The house international relations committee is currently investigating these allegations with a view to holding hearings on them sometime in the spring. Last week, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Irish National Caucus, the Rev. Sean McManus, sent letters to the members of committee asking them not to schedule the hearing for “whatever the intention, such a Hearing will be seen as an attempt to embarrass Sinn Fein, thus harming the Irish peace Process.”
In his reply, dated Dec. 20, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, rejected the appeal. Referring to allegations that three Irishmen were providing explosives training for FARC, Hyde wrote: “We need to establish the facts surrounding these events, and then get credible explanations as to why a Sinn Fein representative and some IRA members were in the FARC-controlled DMZ in Colombia on false passports. As a result of these arrests, the foreign policy implications for the United States are many. . . . Senior Colombian authorities have alleged that there may have been IRA training of the FARC. If this is indeed the case, American citizens have been put at a great risk. If organizations such as the IRA are helping to promote an increase in international terrorism, especially that which targets Americans, we must be concerned.”
The letter concludes: “This Committee has long played a supportive and constructive role in the Irish peace process. Sweeping this very serious matter under the rug will not only harm the Irish peace process, but also damages American national interests in Colombia and in the struggle against global terrorism.”
The Rev. McManus is continuing to question the need for hearings.
He said that though the IRA for 30 years has had connections to organizations to which the U.S. is opposed, “there never been a public hearing about it.” He said that the demand for hearings now “puzzles me greatly.”
“I believe that this is an artificial, contrived effort to bring about a hearing for some strange agenda,” McManus said. “It is a totally dishonest argument that must not be given a second of credibility.”