CUBA, SI! YANKEE, NO!HATTIE BABBITT STIRS UP THE REVOLT AGAINST CASTRO | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona
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CUBA, SI! YANKEE, NO!HATTIE BABBITT STIRS UP THE REVOLT AGAINST CASTRO

While ex-governor Bruce Babbitt is still harboring dreams of being a world leader, his wife Hattie is already leading. And if there's any doubt about it, ask Fidel Castro. The Cuban government--the last outpost of communism in this hemisphere--has portrayed Hattie Babbitt as a dupe of the CIA, accusing her...

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While ex-governor Bruce Babbitt is still harboring dreams of being a world leader, his wife Hattie is already leading.

And if there's any doubt about it, ask Fidel Castro. The Cuban government--the last outpost of communism in this hemisphere--has portrayed Hattie Babbitt as a dupe of the CIA, accusing her of helping to foment revolt among Cuban intellectuals.

It's a story right out of a spy novel: An incendiary document drafted by a cell of rebellious intellectuals is furtively carried across the border to the free world.

The CIA stuff? Hattie Babbitt pooh-poohs it. But the incendiary document? She carried it out of Cuba, and as a result, she landed in the middle of an international incident.

The intrigue began last May, when the Babbitts, now attorneys in private practice in Phoenix, co-headlined the 15th annual Caribbean Studies Association Conference in the Cuban capital of Havana.

The beleaguered Castro government, in danger of losing all ties to the new Soviet Union, has hosted conferences and activities like the Pan American Games in an effort to convince the outside world that Cuba is one of the good guys.

At the conference, Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor and presidential candidate, spoke on how human rights have become institutionalized in the American political system. Hattie Babbitt spoke about the importance of free elections in countries that want acceptance from the world community.

After the speechmaking, Hattie Babbitt met Cuban poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela and writer Roberto Luque Escalona and agreed to their request to carry a "Declaration of Cuban Intellectuals" out of the country. When she reached United States soil, Hattie Babbitt sent the document, which was signed by a number of prominent Cuban writers, to Carlos Alberto Montaner, a Cuban exile working as a journalist in Madrid, Spain.

The declaration kicked up an international stir when it was printed in the Miami Herald, as well as in newspapers in Spain and Venezuela.

Letter carrier Hattie Babbitt describes the document as a simple call for "national debate" within Cuba and a plea for free speech, free elections and freedom for political prisoners. "It requested nothing more than any civilized society would grant to its citizenry," she says.

Hattie says she had no trouble leaving Cuba with the document--and no qualms about relaying it to the outside world. "Obviously," she says, "if the letter had said something like, `We're calling for the violent overthrow of the Fidel Castro regime,' I would have said, `I'm not in this.'"

Nevertheless, the Castro regime came unglued, calling the document "a new machination by the CIA" and accusing the intellectuals of treason and "vileness." The Cuban government portrayed Montaner as being "generously propped up by the CIA budget." (Montaner also happens to be a friend of Hattie Babbitt.)

All of this sounds strikingly similar to the revolt by intellectuals that preceded the all-out rebellion in the Baltic states and the Soviet Union itself. But the Castro government denies that. The government's English-language weekly newspaper Granma declared, "Cuba is not Eastern Europe. The Cuban Revolution was made with the participation of the purest and most genuine of its people."

Granma detailed the "plot," saying that "U.S. citizen Hattie Babbitt" met with "some of the conspirators," but noted that this supposed CIA maneuver "has been shattered by the indestructible unity of our writers and artists in regard to the Revolution and Fidel."

"Indestructible unity"? Hardly. After the document was publicized, one of the numerous writers who had signed it, Roberto Luque Escalona, was arrested for showing "disrespect" toward the Cuban government--a charge that carries the penalty of imprisonment. Luque went on a hunger strike and Amnesty International took up his case.

(Luque is a prominent Cuban intellectual who lost a job at Havana University in 1990 after his book Fidel: The Judgment of History was published in Mexico. The book had been smuggled out of Cuba one chapter at a time. Luque was released from jail in early September, after the Pan American Games ended. Hattie Babbitt says officials didn't want Luque to make a stir while international athletes and media were in Havana.)

When the Babbitts returned to the United States, Hattie wrote an account of her role in the affair in the August 4 edition of the Washington Post. She blasted the Cuban government for stifling internal dissent while playing at being a good neighbor by hosting the Pan American Games. She characterized the games as "less like a vehicle for peace and understanding than like an Olympiad in the Third Reich."

Hearing that Luque had been thrown in jail was chilling, Hattie says, especially after she had just made a speech telling the Cuban government that to win international respect it had to prove that its people have been granted civil rights.

The idealistic talk during the Havana conference seemed a jarring contrast to the government's throttling of its leading writers, she says, and gave her "sort of an Alice in Wonderland kind of feeling."

Being labeled a CIA gofer felt "pretty ridiculous for a child of the '60s," Hattie says. She laughs it off as good material for barroom anecdotes. "Depends on how many beers you've had when you're telling the story," she adds.

"If the letter had said . . . `We're calling for the violent overthrow of the Fidel Castro regime,' I would have said, `I'm not in this.'"

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