Castro gov’t put on notice with expulsion of Cuban diplomats from U.S.
WASHINGTON (–The war of words between Cuba and the United States has escalated into the Bush administration’s expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats from Washington and the United Nations for allegedly conducting “activities outside of their official capacity.”

The Cuban government has denounced the allegation as “an irrational act of revenge,” “a fabrication” and “another lie” of the U.S. government against Cuba. Their officials accuse the White House of creating these hostilities as a prelude to an attack.

“We challenge the U.S. government to present one single evidence of any illegal activity carried out by any of our Interests Section officials. They perfectly know that they are lying like professional Pinocchios,” said Dagoberto Rodriguez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.


State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters that the Cuban government has “a long record” of spying on the United States. He said the expulsions were the result of active F.B.I. investigations.

However, F.B.I. officials explained that their ongoing investigations have not discovered anything new to warrant the diplomats’ ouster.

A senior F.B.I. official, who asked not to be named, told the New York Times that, “It was not our recommendation to take this action at this time.” He explained that the decision to expel the diplomats was made “at the highest levels” in the State Department and the White House. Those involved then asked the F.B.I. for names of intelligence operatives.

Reason for concern

While U.S. officials have not said that Cuba is a target for an attack, other remarks have the country poised and ready.

On the Sunday news program “Meet The Press” April 13, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, when questioned by host Tim Russert about Cuba and weapons of mass destructions, said, “To the extent our country is threatened or our people are threatened, and the president and government–that’s the first responsibility of government, is to see to the protection–the security of our country.”

Judicial Watch Chairman and General Counsel Larry Klayman said April 29, “Fidel Castro is a dangerous and ruthless dictator who has gone so far even many of his leftist friends have finally condemned him. It’s now time that the world take action against this brutal regime that continues to terrorize innocent people.

“After Saddam, Castro should be next on the U.S. and worldwide hit list of dictators overdue for ‘regime change.’ “

USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham, who has studied U.S.-Cuban relations, believes the country has reason to be concerned.

“This administration has become what it said it wouldn’t be and that is to be the world’s policeman. It has assumed the role of moral and political authority for the world. In this context, it invaded Iraq and has threatened Syria and Iran,” he said.

“It now appears to want to repay its debt to Cuban exiles in south Florida by ratcheting up the pressure on Fidel Castro’s regime. The U.S. is committed to a course of action to intervene militarily and rebuild nations that it is at odds with. President Bush is elbow deep in nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Mounting tensions

The mounting tensions between the two countries began last May 20, when President Bush announced that he was increasing support for Cuban dissidents on the island and would veto legislation calling for the ease of the trade embargo by U.S. farmers and the food industry.

It was also in May that former President Jimmy Carter visited Cuba, met with Fidel Castro and urged the White House to end the 40-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.

Things also escalated with what Cuba sees as an unnecessary hold on visas being processed from the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba. A migratory accord between the two countries allows for the U.S. to grant 20,000 visas each fiscal year for Cubans emigrating. However, there is a backlog in processing requests.

“By this time in the year, the U.S. should have granted at least 10,000 visas,” said Mr. Rodriguez. “They have granted just 700. Our question is, why?”

The State Department refuses to say just how many visas have been granted, but assures that by the end of the fiscal year, they will grant all 20,000. According to State Department officials, the delays are not Cuba specific, but are related to new security measures enacted after September 11, 2001.

With a hold on exit visas and an unconditional welcome mat to America, hijackings in the country have risen. Three hijackers of a Havana commuter ferry were executed before a firing squad in April. The men were found guilty by Cuba’s highest court. They used weapons to take over the boat and threaten the lives of those aboard. The boat ran out of gas along the way and was brought back to the island nation.

“In the last seven months, there have been seven hijackings of Cuban air and sea crafts, encouraged by tolerance, by indiscriminate application of the Cuban Adjustment Act, by the practice of receiving people who use terrorism and violence to get there, who use firearms, something that is penalized in international conventions to which the United States is a party,” said Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque at a press conference April 9.

“There are people living freely in Miami who murdered to divert vessels or planes to the United States and there has been an increase in all of that.”

The government learned of, and foiled, another 29 planned hijackings.

The world was shocked at Cuba’s reaction to the increase in hijackings and the arrests of subversives alleging to be dissidents and journalists. The stories made headline news around the world.

Last month, Cuba jailed 75 men for crimes against the government and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years.

The country accused U.S. diplomat James Carson, who heads the U.S. Interest Section, of encouraging counter-revolutionaries with resources and finances. According to Cuban officials, the group has also used Mr. Carson’s residence to hold meetings.

Mr. Carson has admitted to meeting with leaders of anti-Castro organizations and offering information, moral and spiritual support.

In a televised interview in December 2002, Mr. Carson said, “We’re not giving them anything, it is not what Castro says, that we are financing the opposition; the opposition is insisting on the fact that the system has failed and we are there to offer them the support of the American people and the rest of the democratic world in what they are doing.”

Cuba also took a vigilant stand against the war in Iraq. The country sought a special UN General Assembly to discuss the war, as well as with the UN Commission on Human Rights.

When Cuba was re-elected to the UN Commission on Human Rights April 29, Ambassador Sichan Siv, the U.S. representative to the Economic and Social Council, walked out of the meeting in a huff.

U.S. officials have repeatedly denied that the expulsions were the result of Cuba’s opposition to the war in Iraq, the arrests of what the White House calls human rights activists or the execution of the hijackers.

The administration is, however, according to one official, “very concerned about the human rights situation in Cuba.” The administration has begun discussions of retaliatory actions against Cuba, including restrictions on the activities of the Cuban diplomats.

Mr. Reeker told reporters, “We’ve long been frustrated by the lack of parity between how U.S. diplomats are treated by their Cuban hosts and the privileges extended to Cuban diplomats in the United States.”

While the State Department considers retaliation, a bipartisan group in Congress has introduced legislation in the House and Senate to eliminate the U.S. restrictions on American travel to Cuba.

According to the legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the bill is “an effort to bring some sanity to U.S. foreign policy as it relates to Cuba.

Mr. Rodriguez claims the White House and State Department are doing these things, “to continue the escalation of tensions that may lead, as we have warned before, to the closing of the Interests Section (in Cuba) and as a consequence of that, to disrupt the Migratory Agreements that could provoke a disorganized migration from Cuba to the U.S. that justify an aggression against Cuba.”

Historically, when diplomats are expelled from one country, the other country responds tit-for-tat by expelling diplomats from their country.

Cuba is not anxious to respond like this because that would leave the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba without the necessary personnel to process visas.

“We do not want Cuban or U.S. blood to be shed in a war. We do not want an incalculable number of lives of persons who could be friends lost in any battle. But never did a people have such sacred things to defend, or such profound convictions for which to fight,” said Cuban President Fidel Castro in his May Day message to the U.S. and the world.