December 17, 2001

Adams to unveil Cuba memorial

HAVANA, Cuba --Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is in Cuba to unveil a memorial
to republican hunger strikers who died in 1981.

Adams is also expected to meet Cuban President Fidel Castro during his three-day
stay on the Caribbean island.

Ten republican prisoners -- including MP Bobby Sands -- starved themselves to
death during hunger strikes at the Maze Prison in Belfast as they fought for political

"When the 10 hunger strikers died, there was strong support from Cuba, and
especially from President Fidel Castro," Adams told reporters on his arrival Havana
airport on Sunday.

Adams said there was much for Irish republicans to learn from the Cubans, and
commended their work to overcome illiteracy and improve their health services.

"The fact that people struggle despite all the difficulties, all the impoverished
conditions and despite the hostility of the U.S. government can survive and help
others, is a big lesson to everybody," he said.

Although Adams says he was not concerned about any possible adverse reaction in
the United States to his presence in Cuba -- with whom Washington cut ties four
decades ago -- observers say his visit risks awakening controversy.

The U.S. government cautioned in September that Adams' trip to Cuba would raise
"troubling questions" if it turned out the IRA had links to guerrillas in Colombia.

Three suspected IRA members are currently jailed in Colombia suspected of training
left-wing FARC rebels there. One of those arrested was Niall Connolly -- Sinn Fein's
representative in Cuba.

Adams initially denied that Connolly was a Sinn Fein official, then said he had been
appointed to the post without his knowledge.

Castro talks

Sinn Fein, which opposes British rule in Northern Ireland, has been striving to build
up its political standing in the United States, where it draws considerable financial
support from Irish-Americans.

Adams, MP for West Belfast, is due to unveil a memorial to the hunger strikers,
which was commissioned and funded by Irish republicans, in the centre of Havana
on Tuesday.

He is also due to lay a wreath to the 19th century Cuban rebel Jose Marti tomorrow
and will be meeting key government officials before holding talks with President
Castro, in power for nearly 43 years since his 1959 Cuban Revolution, later this

He will also pay a fact-finding visit to a hospital.

Adams said he believed supporters of Sinn Fein in America would understand his
reasons for going.

"Having been in America as recently as November, there will be some people clearly
who support the peace process, who support Sinn Fein, who support the Irish cause
who will not agree with me going to Cuba but I think they will accept and
understand it.

"Others who do not support us, who do not support the peace process, who are
anti-Sinn Fein will seize on the visit, will try to grab headlines and whip up media

"That is for them. It is their right. It is their entitlement. However, I have a public
commitment to go to Cuba and to unveil this memorial."