June 11, 2003

Cuba warns EU not to meddle in internal affairs

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) --Cuba, telling the European Union on Wednesday it would
not tolerate "provocations and blackmail," announced protest rallies at the Spanish and
Italian embassies in Havana and warned of more action if the EU maintained support for
Cuban dissidents.

In an escalating dispute with the communist-ruled island's main commercial
partner, the government said it would organize big marches in front of the
embassies in Havana on Thursday.

The EU, responding to the Cuban government's toughest crackdown in
decades on dissent, decided last week to limit high-level government visits and
reduce the participation of its 15 member states in cultural events in Cuba.

The EU also said it would further review its Cuba policy and invite government
opponents to embassy receptions in Havana celebrating European national
days, a measure that particularly angered the Cuban authorities.

The government of President Fidel Castro, more usually at odds with its
longtime political foe the United States, has turned its ire to the EU.

"Cuba calmly but firmly issues a warning to the European embassies and to
local U.S. government mercenaries (dissidents) that it will not tolerate
provocations or blackmail," Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said, referring
to the EU sanctions.

"European embassies should be conscious of the fact that they will be failing to
meet their obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations if
they allow themselves to be used for subversion against Cuba," Perez Roque
added in a statement broadcast live to the nation.

Perez Roque accused the EU, and in particular Spanish Prime Minister Jose
Maria Aznar, of joining U.S. efforts to topple the government.

The EU, Cuba's largest trading partner and foreign investor, helped the island
overcome political isolation and economic crisis in the 1990s after the collapse
of Cuba's former benefactor, the Soviet Union.

Relations with the EU have deteriorated rapidly since Havana imprisoned 75
activists in April and put to death three ferry hijackers who had tried to make it
to the United States.

Cuba accused the 75 dissidents, imprisoned for an average 19 years, of
working with the United States to undermine the government of Castro, who
has been in power since a 1959 revolution.

"The mercenaries who try to turn the European embassies in Havana into
centers for conspiring against the revolution should be aware that the Cuban
people will be quite capable of demanding that our laws be vigorously
enforced," Perez Roque said, implying they could soon be behind bars too.

"Mr. Aznar ... now a minor ally of the Yankee imperial government ... today is
the man mainly responsible for its (the EU) treacherous escalation in
aggression," Perez Roque said.

He also expressed concern other countries might follow Italy's recent decision
to cut 40 million euros ($47 million) in aid and credit.

Copyright 2003 Reuters.