Cuba blames U.S. for embassy incident
HAVANA - About 20 Cubans seeking to leave their country crashed a bus
into the gates of the Mexican Embassy and rushed into the building. Later,
more than a
dozen stood on the roof shouting anti-Fidel Castro slogans and threatening to jump off if police came in to get them.
Castro's government accused the U.S. government's Radio Marti early
Thursday of provoking the embassy occupation the night before by repeatedly
statements by Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda, which it said were interpreted as "an open invitation to occupy the embassy of Mexico in Cuba."
Radio Marti's reports were a "gross provocation" leading listeners to
believe that Mexico would grant refuge to any Cuban who showed up, said
communique issued early Thursday. Operated largely by Cuban exiles in Miami, Radio Marti beams anti-Castro news, talk shows and other programs to the island.
Castaneda, who was visiting Miami this week, was quoted by news media
there as saying that "the doors of the embassy of Mexico
on the island are open to all Cuban citizens."
Many details about the Wednesday night incident were unknown because
police ordered reporters entering the area to leave. The
Reuters news agency said two of its staffers were roughed up and one of its television cameras was stolen.
Castro arrived shortly after midnight Thursday at the embassy, where
he 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,
The scene 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
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
hijacked a bus and slammed into the embassy gates.
Cuban officials speaking privately Wednesday night said at least one
of the gate crashers was injured and taken away for medical treatment.
In the blocks around the
embassy at least two men were seen being detained and many others being stopped and searched.
Outside the building late Wednesday, the white and blue Mercedes Benz
bus that crashed into the black metal gate could still be seen. Officials
said it was later
"We can stay here four years, 10 years, but we are not going to leave!" one man shouted from the roof. "Down with Fidel!" several others shouted in unison.
Mexican Ambassador Ricardo Pascoe Pierce was out of the country and
the embassy's No. 2 man, commercial attache Andres Ordonez, could be seen
building talking on a cellular telephone.
Even before the bus crashed through the embassy gates, rumors were widespread
in Havana that the mission would offer asylum to those who showed up --
The idea that "Mexico was going to ... accept people to be taken out
of the country is a rumor," Ordonez told journalists before the occupation.
"There is no variation
in the way the embassy is working, the migration norms in the consular area remain unchanged."
Overnight, scores of police and state security agents shut down all
traffic for blocks around the embassy, where usually only two Cuban guards
are posted at the
entrance. Several truckloads of burly pro-government workers, some carrying wooden sticks or metal pipes, pulled up near the embassy early Thursday.
The police presence had waned considerably by sunrise, however.
There was no immediate comment from the embassy or Mexico's government about the occupation of the mission.
"I think that they want to leave the country," Antonia Silva Ruiz, a
35-year-old housewife who lives nearby, said Thursday morning of those
who entered the
"There are needs everywhere," she said of life in Cuba. "I think that they don't want to be in the system of this country."
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 in Havana after unfounded rumors that Spain would
large number of visas to Cuba. Would-be emigres were arrested or dispersed.
A spate of embassy occupations in the spring of 1994 -- all of them
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 that his government would not
stop anyone who wanted to leave the country. He was angered by the embassy
and a series of other events, including the sinking of a tugboat that killed several dozen people and a rare show of political unrest along the Havana seafront.