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Bad Bee-havior?  
Could the U.S. government really be responsible for destroying the Cuban bee population? Or does Cuba just have a bee in its bonnet? Our intrepid journalist seeks an answer.  

    Sept. 27 —  Who is killing the great bees of Cuba? Why, the American government, of course. Cuban officials have blamed the United States over the years for everything from spreading dengue fever on the island to putting too much starch in Fidel’s fatigues. Now they’re insisting that our government is murdering millions of Cuban honeybees by secretly delivering a bee-killing parasite to the heroic island nation.  

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  ACCORDING TO THE COMMUNIST Party newsmagazine Granma (which would be sort of like NEWSWEEK—if NEWSWEEKwas edited by Leon Trotsky), America is simply doing what it does best: waging its ongoing “biological war against Cuba.” (You have to love a government that can’t feed all of its people, yet publishes an official magazine in five languages.)
        Since 1996, when America supposedly introduced the parasite, Cuba has lost 16,000 beehives and $2 million in honey output. Almost all of this year’s export crop of Cuban honey—prized, according to Granma, for its “superior quality” and “low toxicity” compared to that lousy, mass-produced Chinese “crap”—is at risk.
        Granma (which, now that I’ve said it a few times, is a really bad name for any magazine except the house organ of the American Association of Retired People) had “compelling” “evidence” of the U.S. attack, claiming that if the parasite, which is known as varroa, had infiltrated the island naturally, it would’ve spread from east to west.
        But this parasite is spreading from west to east. Can there possibly be another explanation besides America’s continued effort at “reimposing neocolonial control” over Cuba?
        I wondered, so I called our government for an explanation. I mean, if Cuba was telling an outright lie, the State Department would do what it does best, like issue a press release, hold a news conference or blame Yassir Arafat.
        Not this time. “We have issued no response to this particular claim,” said State Department spokesman Frederick Jones. This non-denial didn’t satisfy the journalist that’s still lurking way deep down somewhere inside me (underneath layers of cynicism, mid-career ennui, and about six pounds of those French fries at the diner near my office).
        I mean, if there’s no official response from the State Department, perhaps the claim is true. Perhaps we really are killing the bees of Cuba.
        “I didn’t say that,” Jones said. “What I said is that we have no response. If we responded to every claim coming out of Cuba, we’d do nothing else. They’re always placing the blame on us for something that has happened there.”
        Jones listed numerous examples of “spurious” “claims” by the Cuban government, including a charge that we once unleashed a virus that caused thousands of Cubans to go blind.
        “But when their own scientists studied it, it turned out that the cause of the blindness was malnutrition,” Jones said (although he went mute when I suggested that perhaps we were causing the malnutrition, too).
        Lacking a definitive denial from my government, I was floundering like a man without a country. Sure, maybe we hadn’t deprived thousands of Cubans the gift of sight and perhaps we didn’t introduce dengue fever to the island a decade ago. But our government did lie about the Bay of Pigs, didn’t it? We do regularly spy on Cuba, don’t we? We have tried to assassinate Fidel Castro (or, at the very least, cut the length of his speeches from six to four hours), haven’t we?
        Wavering in my devotion to Uncle Sam, I called the Cuban Interests Section, an office in Washington, D.C. staffed by five Cuban guys who sit around answering calls from American journalists and vigorously defending Cuba’s “interests.”
        “Cuban pilots have seen American planes delivering this parasite,” said spokesman Jorge Autie. “Your country has been waging these biological attacks for years.”

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       When I asked Autie why the American government would bother wasting its time when there are plenty of interns left to deflower, his response made me feel as if I had just been shipped to a Maoist “re-education” camp, where my most basic ideological beliefs were tossed against the wall only to fall to the floor like so many pieces of undercooked spaghetti.
        “It is hard for you, as an American, to recognize that this is what your country is always doing to Cuba,” Autie said. “You do this just to keep Cuba down! It’s like your embargo. That is not about overturning our government, but about hurting the Cuban people.”
        Despite his vehemence, Autie assured me that he did not hold me personally responsible. Still, I felt chastened, so I had to dig deeper. Could my country really be involved in something so nefarious as a clandestine biological war against a neighbor? Could we be so vindictive that we would attack Cuba, which hasn’t given us any trouble in 20 years (unless you count Elian Gonzalez)? And, more important, could I find a decent Cuban sandwich in New York and still make my deadline?
        These are all important questions, so I did what any “good” journalist would do when faced with important questions: I called a beekeeper.
        Fortunately, Keith Delaplane of the University of Georgia set me straight on bees, parasites and America’s biological conflict with Latin America.
        “First of all, the Cuban claim is preposterous,” said an offended Delaplane, who, after all, has lost thousands of his own bees to the varroa parasite.
        Delaplane explained that the parasite—a mite that sucks blood out of its host—came to the United States in 1988 from Asia (hey, you didn’t hear us complain, did you, Fidel?) through normal human activity such as import/export, tourism and, of course, Little League playoffs.
        Within a few years, varroa had wiped out not only half a million managed hives, but virtually our entire population of wild honeybees.
        Who knew?
        “Nowadays,” Delaplane said, “if you’re stung by an insect, chances are it was a yellow jacket, which is actually a wasp, not a bee.”
        Delaplane, who studies such things, said that the varroa mite is now common throughout the Caribbean, so it’s no surprise that Cuban bees are now under attack.
        “Wherever you have boat traffic, you have honeybees,” he said. “And wherever you have honeybees, you have varroa.”
        Leave it to a beekeeper to restore my patriotism. Take that, Fidel!

Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (Random House). His website is at http://www.gersh.tv
Gersh: Miss Patetica

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