February 6, 2001

Cuba squares off with Argentina

                  HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Communist-run Cuba, never far from international
                  controversy, has resolved a dispute over two detained Czechs, only to walk into
                  another diplomatic spat with Latin American powerhouse Argentina.

                  Diplomats mediating in the Czech case breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday as
                  the two well-known Czechs -- including legislator and former Finance Minister
                  Ivan Pilip -- returned to Prague following their three-week detention in Havana.

                  The pair, also including former Velvet Revolution student leader Jan Bubenik,
                  were arrested on January 12 by Cuban state security after meeting
                  anti-communist dissidents, but secured their release late Monday with a public

                  The respite was short-lived, however, as a diplomatic storm grew the same day
                  in Havana and Buenos Aires over unflattering comments by President Fidel
                  Castro about the government of Argentina and its relationship with the United

                  One comment in particular during Castro's six-hour weekend speech -- saying
                  Buenos Aires' appeal for U.S. financial aid was tantamount to "licking the
                  Yankees' boots" -- seems to have stuck in Argentine throats.

                  In response, Buenos Aires recalled its ambassador, canceled a trade mission to
                  Havana, and described Castro's comments as "almost a fit of irrationality" and
                  "frankly offensive."

                  Cuba's ruling Communist Party's daily, Granma, published on Tuesday extracts
                  of Castro's comments about Argentina -- made in a rambling speech into the
                  early hours of Saturday -- "with the aim of preventing Argentines from being

                  However, the preamble to the text added more fuel to the fire by accusing
                  Argentine Foreign Minister Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini of visiting Washington
                  this week "to implore U.S. government aid in exchange for a vote against Cuba in

                  Castro says Argentina 'in crisis'

                  That was a reference to the annual U.N. Human Rights' Commission vote on
                  Cuba, where Argentina joined the vote against Havana in 2000, and may do so
                  again this year.

                  "There are countries in crisis today, for example, Argentina," began the extracts
                  of Castro's speech in Granma.

                  He went on to lash Buenos Aires' "shameful position" at the United Nations. He
                  also satirized Argentina's "neoliberal" and "dollarization" process -- "How happy
                  the people were buying fridges, TVs, cars, everything! And, on the other hand,
                  the government selling everything, even the parks!"

                  The "bootlicking" comment came in relation to what Castro said was Argentina's
                  current need for $40 billion. "What a brilliant future for our peoples! Long live
                  the dollar!" he continued with typical irony.

                  Diplomatic disputes are nothing new, of course, for Cuba, since the early days
                  of Castro's 1959 revolution, after which the whole of the Americas, with the
                  exception of Mexico, broke formal ties with Havana.

                  "Remember Fidel's a born fighter, a master at war or in politics. He might not
                  admit it, but he thrives on these antagonistic situations," a Latin American
                  diplomat said.

                  Perhaps underpinning recent events is Cuba's renewed sense of political strength,
                  both at home and abroad, in the wake of its successful fight last year to bring
                  home young shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez from the United States.

                  Even protests over the detained Czechs from the European Union -- a crucial
                  economic partner for Cuba -- failed to change Cuba's insistence on an apology
                  prior to a solution.

                  Criticism directed at many nations

                  "I do really detect a strong confidence here at the moment," said British-based
                  Cuba specialist Antoni Kapcia.

                  As the world well knows, Cuba's No. 1 enemy of the last four decades has been
                  its "imperialist" neighbor, the United States, whose economic embargo has failed
                  to topple Castro.

                  But even Mexico -- Cuba's traditionally most unconditional ally in Latin America
                  and the nation from which Castro launched his Granma yacht to start the Cuban
                  revolution -- has had a couple of diplomatic skirmishes of late with Havana.

                  Castro recently lamented that Mexico was a "different" nation, its independence
                  compromised by its commercial ties to the United States. That followed
                  Mexico's unprecedented meeting with anti-Castro dissidents on Cuban soil in

                  Other nations to feel the heat of Cuba's fire in recent months have been Spain
                  and El Salvador.

                  Madrid was chastised after its embassy in Cuba organized an "insulting"
                  Epiphany parade in which diplomats and businessmen dressed as the Three
                  Kings rode through downtown Havana tossing sweets to children running

                  And El Salvador was accused of knowingly sheltering anti-communist Cuban
                  exile Luis Posada Carriles, who was arrested at the recent Ibero American
                  summit in Panama after Castro denounced he was planning to assassinate him.

                  To complete the picture, the other leaders from the 19-nation group -- including
                  Spain and Portugal -- were also criticized by Castro for their "neoliberal affinity."

                      Copyright 2001 Reuters.