Here's the latest from the two workers' paradises of the western hemisphere - Cuba and Venezuela. On December 22nd, a "mutual legal assistance treaty" went into effect that allows Cuban intelligence agents the right to operate in Venezuela.
You may think all Cuban exiles wound up in Miami, but they didn't. A good number went to Venezuela, and they fear they will be persecuted and perhaps picked up and taken back to Cuba for trial. In addition, castro has sent 20,000 Cuban doctors, nurses, teachers, coaches and technicians to Venezuela. The U.S. State Department says an unknown number of them have defected. The Miami Herald quotes a Venezuelan official who says the exiles have nothing to worry about:
''If there are those who are worried about political persecution in Venezuela, they shouldn't be, because there will be none here,'' said Saul Ortega, president of the legislature's international commission and member of President Hugo Chávez's political party.
The treaty contains a provision that would allow Cuban agents to arrest Cuban exiles who criticize fidel, even though Venezuela has no law prohibiting the criticism of the Cuban dictator. That has the exiles worried.
''You can see clearly that the [Cubans] can persecute their enemies here,'' said Enrique Naime, spokesperson for the opposition coalition known as the Democratic Coordinator. ``They are going to say that any Cuban citizen who is here and who is a political dissident is a common criminal.''
The governments both say the critics are being alarmist. They try to say the treaty is the same as treaties the U.S. has with other countries that allow the U.S. to, for instance, prosecute U.S. soldiers who commit crimes in other countries.
But Jesus Quintero, a leading Venezuelan criminal lawyer, said that while the Cuba-Venezuela treaty is superficially similar to other such treaties, there are some ''subtle differences'' that do give rise to concern.
Cuban penal law, he points out, ''is intended as an instrument for the defense of the revolution against its enemies.'' To sign such an agreement with Havana, he argued, ``is equivalent to collaborating with a totalitarian regime in the pursuit of its objectives.''
It would seem that Venezuela is becoming more of a totalitarian regime every day. I hope Condi is keeping a close watch.
Also, fidel is cozying up to the new socialist government in Brazil. Periodico 26 reports that the countries have signed 100 "cooperation agreements."
These agreements were signed by Cuba"s Higher Education deputy minister Eduardo Cruz and Brazil"s Federal Institutes and Universities Association president Ana Lucia Almeida Gazzola, to go ahead with regional integration and the role of Latin American universities.
"Regional integraion" is a term I've seen hugo using. Latin America is heating up as a dangerous place. But it seems the little dictators' club may be worried. From another Cuban government website comes a story headlined "Bush Administration Targets Cuba and Venezuela."
The fact that the Bush Administration is intensifying its anti-Cuba actions while rightwing extremists of Venezuelan and Cuban origin are joining efforts in Miami, was the main theme of Monday's "The Round Table" TV and radio program.
The members of the panel began by commenting on the aggressive statements uttered by Bush's choice for Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who voiced her anti-Cuba rhetoric at a US Senate hearing on her nomination.
Ms. Rice includes Cuba among six countries coined by the US government as the "axis of evil," and promised to implement a hard-line policy against the Caribbean island despite calls by a majority of congress people to relax travel and trade sanctions.
Rice affirmed that putting into effect Washington's "transition" plan for Cuba will be a primary objective of Bush's second term in office.
The outgoing top National Security Adviser also said that she was deeply worried by the close relations and cooperation between Cuba and Venezuela.
I've seen little of this in the American press, which figures. Perhaps we're paying more attention than I thought.