Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cuba says U.S. escalating anti-government actions

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Wednesday accused U.S. diplomats of escalating anti-government activities in recent weeks and said its ideological foe, the United States, will be held responsible for whatever happens if the actions continue. The Foreign Ministry, in a statement published in state-run media, repeated charges from last month that the U.S. mission in Havana was providing direction and money to Cuban dissidents in violation of international diplomatic agreements. It said there had since been an escalation of the activities that included anti-government acts in public places such as Havana's Revolution Square and supposed plans for "provocative actions" on July 4, the U.S. day of independence. "The government of Cuba reiterates clearly that it will not tolerate the continuing of these provocations and illegal actions," the statement said. Cuba, it said, "holds the U.S. government responsible for the consequences that may result."

The government said in May that U.S. top diplomat Michael Parmly, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba, had ferried money from a jailed anti-Castro exile to dissidents in Havana. It aired on television what it said were e-mails and video and audio tapes indicating close cooperation between dissident Martha Beatriz Roque and U.S. diplomats in Havana. Parmly, who is due to leave his post shortly, has not responded to the charges. Roque said the Cuban statement may signal that the government will crack down on dissidents. "I see it as a form of justification of a possible massive detention of dissidents," she said.

Cuba considers dissidents to be mercenaries for the United States, which has had a trade embargo aimed at toppling Cuba's socialist government since 1962. Raul Castro became Cuba's president in February, formally replacing ailing elder brother Fidel Castro who took power in a 1959 revolution. The United States does not have an embassy in Cuba because the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations. Its interests section works through the Swiss embassy. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "Cuba is one of the few places on Earth where simply having a meeting is deemed a threat to the government.

"It's an indication of the kind of ... repressive regime that exists in Cuba," he told reporters. According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, there are about 200 political prisoners in Cuba. The European Union last month voted to lift diplomatic sanctions imposed against Cuba in 2003 in response to the arrest of 75 dissidents. The sanctions were suspended in 2005, but remained a sore spot in Cuba-EU relations.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks, additional reporting by Esteban Israel and Nelson Acosta in Havana and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; editing by Michael Christie)

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