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
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
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
Havana, and described Castro's comments as "almost a fit of irrationality" and
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
of Castro's speech in Granma.
He went on to lash Buenos Aires' "shameful position" at the United Nations.
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
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
admit it, but he thrives on these antagonistic situations," a Latin American
Perhaps underpinning recent events is Cuba's renewed sense of political
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
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
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
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 --
Spain and Portugal -- were also criticized by Castro for their "neoliberal affinity."
Copyright 2001 Reuters.