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Castro wronged by Internet gaffe

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Cuban prostitutes have received an unwelcome compliment from President Bush courtesy of an Internet search gone wrong.

Earlier this month, Bush launched an attack against Fidel Castro and his alleged promotion of sex tourism in Cuba. Our fearless leader dug way back to a 1992 speech given by Castro to prove his case.

"The dictator welcomes sex tourism," Bush told a room of law enforcement officials in Florida, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Here's how he bragged about the industry," Bush said. "This is his quote: 'Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world.'"

As it turns out, Bush had lifted that quotation not from an actual Castro speech but rather from a 2001 essay written by then Dartmouth University undergraduate Charles Trumbull. In the essay, Trumbull did appear to quote a Castro speech about prostitution. Sadly, the student made the quotation up.

According to officials, the actual quotation from Castro's 1992 speech reads as follows: "There are hookers, 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. Those who do so do it on their own, voluntarily…. We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy, because we are the country with the lowest number of AIDS cases."

Castro admitted that prostitution does exist in Cuba, as it does here, but tried to defuse the matter by pointing to the country's high health and education standards. This is hardly "welcoming sex tourism" as Bush claims.

And this isn't the first time the Internet has baffled Bush. Back in 2003, the President cited another student's thesis when making a case to go to war. The student's work ended up in a government document describing Iraq's weapons capability. Not exactly the kind of hard intelligence needed to justify an attack on another country.

But just as the Bush administration did with the Iraq evidence, it is not backing down about being wrong on the Castro issue.

"The president's point in citing Castro's quote was to highlight Castro's morally corrupt attitude to human trafficking," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told the LA Times.

How funny then that the quotation ended up pointing out how inept the Bush administration is at research. Surely, the White House is committed to improving its information gathering practices in the future? Well, no. Bush's speech "was vetted the same way all the president's speeches are vetted," Buchan told the paper.

The Dartmouth student, now studying law, went on the offensive about Bush's use of his work, chiding the president for taking his research out of context and not reading the rest of the paper, which you can see here [PDF].

But, while Trumbull makes a good point, he doesn't seem much more forthcoming than W. He did, after all, fabricate the quotation in the first place, setting up an unavoidable accident. In addition, he is not the defender of Castro's prostitution policies that he claims to be.

"In 1959 Castro spoke out adamantly against prostitution, and for 30 years, there wasn't any," Trumbull said in a 2000 interview with a Dartmouth paper. "In the '90s, it returned. Castro could eliminate it again, but he doesn't. He knows sex tourism brings in a huge flow of U.S. dollars."

Away from this fray, Internet news scourge Matt Drudge has been having a go at the Kerry campaign. Drudge has hyped up the idea that NASA intentionally leaked these photos of Kerry in a boffin bunny suit.

At least, like Cuba's prostitutes, Kerry likes to stay clean. ®

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