February 28, 2002

Mexico Wants Cubans Out of Havana Embassy

              By REUTERS

              HAVANA (Reuters) - As Cuban security forces ringed the Mexican
              Embassy in Havana on Thursday, Mexico said that 21 Cubans who crashed
              a bus into the compound were not seeking asylum and would be encouraged
              to leave as soon as possible

              In remarks that appeared aimed at heading off a spat with Havana over the
              dramatic embassy break-in on Wednesday evening, Mexican Foreign
              Minister Jorge Castaneda told Mexican radio that the Cubans in the
              compound appeared to want work in Mexico.

              ``They are not asylum-seekers because they haven't asked for asylum. They
              did not show any political motivation for entering the embassy,'' Castaneda

              The Cubans spent the night at the diplomatic mission in Havana's posh
              Miramar district after driving the bus through the gate, sparking violence
              between police and youths who also wanted to enter the embassy.

              On Thursday, roads around the embassy were blocked, while police,
              plainclothes agents and pro-government Rapid Response Brigades stood by.

              President Fidel Castro's government blamed the break-in on a rumor that
              Mexico was opening its doors to Cuban asylum- seekers, saying the U.S.
              government-funded Radio Marti had broadcast ``the false and evil'' news to
              the communist-run Caribbean island eight times during the day.

              The case raised memories of a mass invasion of the Peruvian Embassy in
              Havana -- also sparked by a bus break-in which killed a Cuban guard -- by
              thousands of asylum-seekers in 1980. That prompted Castro to temporarily
              ease Cuba's strict limitations on emigration, leading to a famous exodus of
              some 125,000 refugees from the port of Mariel to the United States.

              But, so far, it appeared unlikely this incident would spark a repeat.


              Castaneda, a former Marxist who has irritated communist-run Cuba over
              human rights issues, appeared to seek to prevent any escalation of the

              He echoed Havana's version of events leading up to the embassy break-in,
              and said comments he made earlier this week in an interview with the
              Miami-based, anti-communist Radio Marti that prompted the embassy
              break-in were misunderstood.

              ``We know there are radical elements in Miami. ... Undoubtedly they wanted
              to use my declarations, twisting them, about Mexico's Cultural Institute in
              Miami and Mexico's traditional policies in order to launch what we might call
              a small provocation,'' Castaneda said.

              In Miami, Radio Marti denied that it had distorted his comments. Salvador
              Lew, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting that produces
              Miami-based Radio Marti and its sister TV Marti, said the station simply
              broadcast comments made by Castaneda at a news conference marking the
              opening of the cultural center.

              ``We have the tape of Mr. Castaneda making his statement at the cultural
              event,'' Lew told Reuters. ``What we broadcast was in the voice of Mr.
              Castaneda and it is true. If they have changed their mind that's not my

              The station made available a tape of what it said was broadcast on
              Wednesday, in which Castaneda said in part: ``The doors of the embassy
              and the doors of Mexico ... will be open to any Cuban citizen or to any Latin
              American citizen who is interested in visiting Mexico or having contact with
              Mexican representatives in Cuba or any other Latin American country.''

              The station was founded 17 years ago under President Ronald Reagan to
              broadcast to Cuba and offer an alternative to information from Cuba's
              state-run media.

              The question now remained as to how the Mexican authorities would
              persuade those inside the embassy to leave.

              The No. 2 at the Mexican Embassy, Andres Ordonez, told Reuters the men
              were given food and medical checks overnight. ''The situation is calm,'' he
              added in a telephone interview.

              Most entered the embassy in the bus, but a few apparently also gained entry
              on foot, other diplomatic sources said.

              Meanwhile, a few Cubans continued arriving at the scene, believing they
              could get Mexican visas but were turned away by police. ``I want to get out.
              I've got a lot of family abroad,'' said 52-year-old Margarita Martiano

              Other embassies in Cuba tightened security.

              After the break-in on Wednesday night, some of the bus passengers
              emerged on the embassy roof, chanting slogans like ''Down with Fidel!'' and
              threatening to throw themselves off if the police moved in, witnesses said.

              A Cuban statement condemned the men who went into the embassy as
              ``anti-social and lumpen elements.''

              CRITICS BLAME CUBA

              The trouble began when a blue-and-white Mercedes Benz bus careened up
              the street and smashed through the gate before grinding to a halt within the
              diplomatic compound. Earlier, a noisy crowd of several hundred mainly
              young Cubans gathered outside the embassy, which was protected by police
              and plainclothes security agents.

              Police blocked youths trying to run in behind the bus, chasing, beating and
              detaining people in the street, and attacking two Reuters journalists with

              A local human rights' group, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
              National Reconciliation, said dozens of arrests were made and denounced
              ``many acts of police brutality.''

              Commission head Elizardo Sanchez, one of Cuba's best-known dissidents
              who met with Mexican President Vicente Fox on his recent visit, said the
              cause of the break-in was ``the situation of growing economic, political,
              social and human rights crisis oppressing most Cubans.''

              He said those inside should not be turned over unconditionally to face
              reprisals later.

              The United States said it expected Mexico to find a humanitarian way to
              remove the Cubans, but added that such problems would not arise if Cuba
              had a ``free society.''

              After the Mariel exodus in 1980, and during Cuba's hard economic times of
              the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were several other incidents of people
              trying to force their way into diplomatic buildings.