If former President Jimmy Carter thought that concern about Fidel Castro's addiction to a biological weapons buildup is unwarranted, he could have asked fellow Democrats. When it came to Cuba's biological weapons program, even the Clinton administration refused to let Mr. Castro off the hook, as Mr. Carter was ready to do during a tour of Castro's biotechnology headquarters last week. In April 2000 a Clinton administration report stated that Cuba posed an offensive threat to the United States, because "[i]t has the infrastructure which can be adapted to the production of chem-bioweapons."
That statement grew out of first-hand input from biological warfare experts. Five chemical and biological weapons plants operate in Cuba, according to former Cuban air force colonel Alvaro Prendes. Another defector, Soviet expert Ken Alibek, has also provided information to the Pentagon. The Soviet army colonel, who came to the United States in 1992, said Cuba had been producing bacteriological weapons for nearly 10 years under cover of developing vaccines and other health advances. Mr. Alibek gave a detailed account of Mr. Castro's complicity with Russian bioterror programs in his 1999 book, Biohazard. Cuban Zoo Institute researcher Carlos Wotzkow, who defected to Switzerland, described how Mr. Castro used his institute as a front for military projects. One included "biological warfare against United States territory through introducing viruses of infectious diseases inoculated in migratory birds." That led U.S. zoologists to conclude that Castro-tainted birds flying north may have carried the West Nile virus responsible for a 1999 outbreak of encephalitis in New York.
At that time Mr. Castro dismissed Manuel Limonta, director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. Defense analysts suspect that the center fronts for germ warfare research and development plants in Cuba. Mr. Limonta was reportedly fired for corrupt dealings with Iraq and was replaced by Luis Herrera, who conducted Mr. Carter's visit to the center last week. He assured Mr. Carter that the center is keeping to its humanitarian purposes. If Mr. Carter came away convinced, the sitting president is unmoved. "I appreciate President Carter's focus on human rights," Mr. Bush told reporters before his own May 20 speech on Cuba. "I think that's important in Cuba, a place where there are no human rights." Mr. Bush denied that the Carter visit complicated his foreign policy "because it hasn't changed my foreign policy."