Fri Jan 21, 2005

Fired Argentine Envoy Says Cuba Won't Let Neurosurgeon Go

HAVANA (Reuters) - Argentina will get nowhere pressing Cuba to allow a dissident neurosurgeon to travel to see her son and grandchildren in Buenos Aires, the country's former ambassador in Havana, Raul Taleb, said on Friday. 

Dr. Hilda Molina, who pioneered brain surgery and stem cell research in Cuba, has been denied permission to leave the country since she broke with the government and renounced her Communist Party membership in 1994.

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner asked in a letter to Cuban leader Fidel Castro (news - web sites) that Molina be allowed to travel, but the request was turned down, causing diplomatic friction.

Taleb was dismissed in December after Molina spent 30 hours inside the Argentine embassy in Havana in what appeared to be a bid for political asylum. The ambassador was not in Havana at the time.

"Cuba does not act under pressure. They got the wrong country," Taleb said, criticizing the Argentine Foreign Ministry for its handling of the case. "I am taking the blame for someone else. I was the fuse in this short-circuit," he said.

Taleb said he believed Molina planned to stay in Argentina for good, and Cuban authorities feared she would take her Cuban expertise and set up a rival neurosurgery clinic in Argentina.

Molina, a prestigious medical figure, who had a seat in Cuba's legislature, fell out with Castro. She disagreed with the conversion of the hospital where she worked to serve dollar-paying foreigners and had other ethical issues regarding her research.

The Cuban government has adamantly refused Molina an exit permit and said the doctor's son, Roberto Quinones, should travel to Cuba to see her.

Molina, who has never met her two grandchildren, fears her son will not be allowed to leave the island if he returns and has told him not to travel to Cuba.

"The Cuban government has politicized this matter, which is totally a family issue," Molina, 61, told Reuters at her Havana home.

"Knowing the Cuban government, I am not hopeful," she said.