October 16, 2004

Cuba Denies Entry to Spanish Politician

Associated Press Writer

MADRID, Spain -- Cuban authorities denied entry to a conservative Spanish politician and two Dutch colleagues hoping to meet with dissidents, Spain's Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

Cuba's ambassador to Madrid, Isabel Allende, was summoned urgently to explain what the Spanish government considers an "unacceptable" expulsion, the ministry said in a statement.

Jorge Moragas of Spain's opposition Popular Party, traveling with two center-right politicians from the Netherlands, was stopped upon arrival Friday night at Havana airport and denied access to Spanish diplomats, including Ambassador Carlos Alonzo Zaldivar.

Spanish media reported that the three were kept at the airport for two hours and threatened with arrest if they did not board a plane to return to Madrid, which they did.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry said Moragas was traveling on a tourist visa, meaning he could not conduct political business.

The ministry called Moragas "a defiant enemy of the Cuban revolution" and criticized his plan to meet with dissidents, whom Cuba considers mercenaries backed by the United States.

"The activities publicly declared as the objectives of his trip constitute a flagrant violation of our sovereignty" and are considered a political provocation against Cuba, the ministry said in a statement released Saturday.

The incident threatened to ignite a diplomatic spat just days after Spain's new Socialist government said it wanted to improve relations with Cuba and lead the European Union in changing its policies toward the communist-run island.

Moragas also came to Cuba in July to meet with government opponents, at which time he received a warning by Cuban authorities, according to the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

Moragas holds a seat in Parliament and is his party's senior official for foreign policy.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Moragas had received "unacceptable treatment," but he also seemed to chide the Popular Party, saying Spanish policy toward Cuba was up to the government, not "a domestic policy issue" open for debate among parties.

Popular Party president Mariano Rajoy said the incident was an insult to all Spanish people because Moragas represented them as a lawmaker.

The episode "shows that Cuba, the Castro regime, is nothing but a dictatorship in which dissidents cannot carry out any political activities," Rajoy said.

After a Cuban government crackdown of dissidents in the spring of 2003, European Union nations responded by unanimously agreeing to reduce high-level governmental visits and participation in cultural events in Cuba. Then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a conservative, was among the most outspoken critics of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

They also decided to invite dissidents to national holiday celebrations at their embassies in Havana as a sign of support for the island's internal opposition.

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press