January 29, 2002

Honduras extends diplomatic ties to Cuba

                 COPAN, Honduras (AP) -- Defying the United States, Cuba once stood nearly
                 alone in the Americas, recognized by only handful of countries as it veered
                 toward socialism.

                 Forty years later, with Fidel Castro still in power, only two countries in the
                 hemisphere are still allied with the U.S. diplomatic boycott of Cuba: El Salvador and
                 Costa Rica.

                 Outgoing Honduran President Carlos Flores Facusse restored his nation's relations
                 with Havana on Saturday night, ending a break that started in 1961. The move
                 irritated Salvadoran President Francisco Flores.

                 "That leaves us cold," Flores told reporters Sunday night during a meeting of
                 leaders here to mark the inauguration of Honduran president Ricardo Maduro.

                 "I believe it was an inconvenient thing," he added. "Never before have we seen an
                 outgoing president, 10 hours before leaving his post, signing the op ening of
                 relations with a country like Cuba."

                 Flores openly argued with Castro during a regional summit in 2000, accusing Cuba
                 of partial responsibility for his country's civil war of the 1990s.

                 As Cuba's government moved sharply toward a communist system in the early
                 1960s, the country was suspended from the Organization of American States, and
                 all but two countries in the hemisphere -- Canada and Mexico -- broke ties with
                 Castro's government.

                 Today, Cuba claims relations with 170 countries around the world.

                 The collapse of the Soviet Bloc between 1989 and 1991, and the end of Cuban
                 support for Latin American rebel movements, removed the sense of threat that
                 many governments in the region had once felt from Havana.

                 Democratic governments that replaced military dictatorships in many Latin
                 American countries also were more inclined to restore ties with Cuba.

                 Even those in bitter disputes with Cuba in recent years -- Argentina and Nicaragua
                 -- have refrained from breaking relations.

                 What remains of the blockade on diplomatic ties itself can often be leaky. Costa
                 Rica and Cuba had exchanged consuls until a dispute last year. A Salvador-based
                 airline flies regularly between Havana and the capitals of Costa Rica and El

                 The United States itself may have the largest diplomatic contingent in Havana --
                 though it works under the Swiss flag.

                 Still lacking is readmission to the OAS -- efforts by influential Latin American
                 politicians to get Cuba back into the group have been stymied by stern U.S.
                 opposition -- and an end to the U.S. trade boycott, which has battered Cuba's

                 Honduran Foreign Minister Guillermo Perez Cadalso said the new administration
                 welcomed the outgoing president's decision. "Diplomatic relations with Cuba was a
                 decision of state," he said, "and the process should only be continued."

                 Salvadoran Congressman Manuel Melgar of the opposition Farabundo Marti
                 National Liberation Front called his government's stand against Cuba "contradictory
                 and totally absurd.

                 "Our country has a lot of business with Cuba," he said. "There are hundreds of
                 (Salvadoran) students of medicine who are being prepared, and many people travel
                 for reasons of tourism or health."

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.