The New York Times
February 28, 2002

Cubans Seek Asylum in Mexican Embassy


HAVANA (AP) -- Twenty-one Cubans remained holed up in the Mexican Embassy on Thursday after plowing through the gates with a
stolen bus. Cuba's government blamed an exile-run U.S. government radio station for repeatedly quoting a Mexican official as saying the
embassy's doors ``are open.''

Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda said Thursday his words had been taken out of context by ``radicals'' in Miami who ``no
doubt wanted to use, to distort, my declarations.''

He said Mexican officials were trying to persuade the Cubans to leave and they had not sought asylum. Castaneda also indicated it was
unlikely they would get Mexican visas.

Mexico has asked Cuba to bring in ``a large deployment of public forces'' to prevent an event like the one Wednesday night from happening
again, Castaneda told Radio Red in Mexico City. ``We will not permit it.''

There were 21 Cuban men inside the mission Thursday, other Mexican officials said on condition they not be named. They described the
situation inside as ``calm'' and said the Cubans had received food and medical attention.

In a statement Thursday, Fidel Castro's government called the reports from Radio Marti a ``gross provocation'' that led listeners to believe
that Mexico would grant refuge to any Cuban who showed up. Operated largely by Cuban exiles in Miami, Radio Marti beams anti-Castro
news, talk shows and other programs to the island.

``Castro blames us anytime anything happens. He has to blame somebody,'' said Salvador Lew, director of the Miami-based station. ``The
Cuban people will go to any place, even a movie, to escape the Cuban system.''

During a visit to Miami this week, Castaneda was quoted by news media there as saying ``the doors of the embassy of Mexico on the island
are open to all Cuban citizens.''

The Cuban government said Radio Marti rebroadcast that statement at least eight times on Thursday. It accused the station of provoking the
embassy invasion with the repeated broadcasts, which it said were interpreted as ``an open invitation to occupy the Mexican Embassy in

Castaneda told Radio Red that reports in Miami had confused two separate statements he made there while opening a Mexican Cultural
Center. He said he declared the center's ``doors are open to the entire Latino community in Miami'' while also saying that Mexico itself was
open to Cuban dissidents.

He blamed ``very, very, very radical elements'' for the rebroadcast.

In Miami, Radio Marti officials denied the allegations Thursday. ``Radio Marti did not manipulate Castaneda's message,'' said Wilfredo
Granados, the station's chief of reporters and correspondents.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration was confident that the Mexican government would
find a solution which pays due regard to humanitarian concerns and to its international obligations.

``We note that in a similar case, in 1993, the Cubans who had entered the Mexican Embassy were permitted to leave Cuba,'' Boucher said.

The incident, he said, underscores the need for change in Cuba. ``Cubans would not seek entry to foreign embassies if they had an
opportunity to choose their own government...They wouldn't have to go through the wall if they were allowed to go to the front door.''

Confusion reigned around the embassy on Thursday, with a small trickle of people showing up hoping to enter the two-story mission.

Accompanied by a neighbor, Margarita Gonzalez, 52, approached a police officer guarding a street leading to the embassy and said she
understood ``Mexico is approving departures and I want to leave.''

``I have my reasons: my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, my brothers in the United States,'' Gonzalez said.

The chaotic scene outside Mexico's mission on Wednesday night evoked memories of 1980, when Cubans crashed a bus into the gate of
the Peruvian Embassy and sought asylum. In the dispute that followed, Cuba withdrew its guards, prompting about 10,000 people to flood
the mission grounds.

Castro then opened the port of Mariel, and 125,000 Cubans -- including those who had been in the Peruvian Embassy -- fled to the United
States in a chaotic boat exodus.

Overnight Wednesday, scores of police and state security agents shut down all traffic for blocks around the embassy. Several truckloads of
pro-government workers, some carrying wooden sticks or metal pipes, pulled up near the embassy early Thursday.

An unspecified number of people were detained and many more were stopped, questioned and searched. The police presence had waned
considerably by sunrise, however.

The government statement said the occupation of the Mexican Embassy took place about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday when a group of about 20
``anti-social elements'' hijacked a bus and slammed into the embassy gates.

Cuban officials said at least one of the gate crashers was injured and taken away for medical treatment.

Castro arrived at the scene shortly after midnight Thursday to assess the situation and was cheered by more than 100 Cuban bystanders.
Traveling in a group of three military jeeps, Castro was accompanied by Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Vice President Carlos
Lage, among others.

There have been similar rushes on foreign embassies in Havana by Cubans seeking to leave the country, but not in the last few years.

In 1997, hundreds of pro-government workers and students blocked access to the Spanish Embassy after rumors that Spain would grant a
large number of visas to Cuba. Would-be emigres were arrested or dispersed.

A spate of embassy occupations in the spring of 1994 -- all unsuccessful -- preceded an exodus of about 32,000 Cubans who left the
island for the United States on rickety boats and rafts. Castro set off the exodus by announcing his government would not stop anyone who
wanted to leave the country.