According to Babbs, this is Casto's response to our Middle East offensive......
Back to Home > Thursday, Mar 20, 2003
Posted on Wed, Mar. 19, 2003
Cuba Detains Dissidents, Limits Diplomats
HAVANA - Already frayed Cuba-U.S. relations unraveled further as the communist government announced the detentions of several dozen opponents and confirmed that U.S. diplomats may no longer move freely around the island.
An official statement read on state television's evening news Tuesday accused the chief of Washington's diplomatic mission in Havana, James Cason, of trying "to foment the internal counterrevolution."
"No nation, no matter how powerful, has the right to organize, finance and serve as a center for subverting the constitutional order," the statement said.
Offices at the U.S. Interests Section were closed late Tuesday and attempts to reach American diplomats here for comment were unsuccessful.
In Washington, a State Department official said American authorities had not yet had time to study Havana's announcement. State Department officials last week reported the travel restrictions on its diplomats in Havana, but the Cuban government did not confirm the new measures until Tuesday.
The Cuban statement did not describe the restrictions, but U.S. officials have said American diplomats here now must get prior approval to travel outside the 434-square-mile area that includes Havana and surrounding Havana Province - less than 5 percent of the largest island in the Caribbean.
Previously, U.S. diplomats had to notify Cuban officials when they traveled outside the Havana region, but no advance approval was necessary.
American government sources said they believe Cuba wants to cut back on the extensive travels here by Cason, who has logged more than 6,200 miles since arriving here in the fall.
Washington last week imposed similar travel restrictions on Cuban diplomats in the United States, saying it was responding to Havana's move.
Human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said late Tuesday he had confirmed the detentions of at least 10 dissidents and was trying to confirm reports of at least 20 more being picked up by state security agents.
Most of Cuba's prominent activists, including Oswaldo Paya - the top organizer of the Varela Project reform effort - were left alone. But among those picked up were Efren Fernandez, who has worked with Paya, and Ricardo Gonzalez, editor of the new magazine De Cuba, which publishes the work of nonofficial journalists.
The nongovernmental Reporters Without Borders said at least a dozen of those people picked up were independent journalists. It called the detentions the "end to a period of relative tolerance for the independent press."
The detentions come during the annual Geneva meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, where Cuba's record regularly is condemned, and days before a gathering in El Salvador of newspaper editors and publishers from around the region to discuss press freedoms.
Havana's actions are just the latest in an increasingly ugly exchanges between the two governments, which have had no regular diplomatic relations for more than four decades.
The U.S. Interests Section here opened Sept. 1, 1977, during the Carter administration to provide a minimum of communications between Washington and Havana. A similar Cuban Interests Section operates in Washington.
Havana in recent weeks has become increasingly incensed with Cason, who last month made a high-profile visit to a meeting of dissidents and spoke with international journalists gathered there. Cuban authorities have accused him of undiplomatic behavior.
Since arriving here about six months ago, Cason has met with opposition members around the island and last week allowed a group of dissident journalists to use his official residence for a meeting.
Cason has said he is merely trying to promote democracy and human rights in the Caribbean nation.
"The Cuban government is afraid - afraid of freedom of conscience, afraid of freedom of expression, afraid of human rights," Cason told journalists during last month's meeting with the opposition.
President Fidel Castro responded shortly thereafter by criticizing Cason's public comments and suggested - as he has done several times in the past - that he could close the American mission.
"Anyone can see that this is a shameless and a defiant provocation," Castro said of Cason.
The State Department protested Castro's criticisms of Cason as "derogatory."
Cuban officials have also become increasingly upset about a new solitary confinement lockdown on five convicted Cuban spies serving time in American prisons.
The five were convicted in Miami of trying to infiltrate U.S. military bases and Cuban exile groups in Florida. Their sentences range from 15 years to life.
Cuban authorities have lionized the men as patriotic heroes and say they were merely working to prevent Cuban exile groups from launching terrorist acts against their homeland.