Peru joins Mexico in suspending Cuba ties
Peru called home its ambassador in Havana, expanding Cuba's diplomatic rift with Mexico and Peru over their U.N. votes to criticize Cuba's human rights record.
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN AND ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
Mexico's ambassador to Cuba returned home Monday amid a diplomatic rift with Havana that widened significantly, with Peru announcing that it too would recall its ambassador on the island.
The twin actions -- a first for both countries -- will effectively freeze political relations but are unlikely to hamper business ties. Mexico also gave the Cuban ambassador until today to leave Mexico.
The moves followed weekend criticism of Mexico and Peru by President Fidel Castro for recently voting in support of a U.S.-backed U.N. condemnation of Cuba's human rights record.
In a statement released Monday, Cuba's Foreign Ministry said it rejects ``this new act against Cuba and announces that these declarations inspired by high-handedness, arrogance, foolishness and lies will receive their due response.''
The incidents underscored a growing rift between the Western Hemisphere's only communist nation and two major Latin American countries. While Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina have moved ideologically closer to Cuba over the past year, Mexico, Peru and some Central American nations have inched toward cooling their ties with Havana.
''A democratic government in Mexico could not continue with the Institutional Revolutionary Party's complicity with the Cuban dictatorship,'' former foreign minister José Castañeda told a Mexico City radio station Monday.
''Relations have been deteriorating steadily as Mexico becomes more democratic,'' said Castañeda, who served under President Vicente Fox, whose conservative National Action Party ended 70 years of Institutional Revolutionary Party rule.
The fracas with Cuba forced Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez to postpone a visit to Washington on Monday, where he had been expected to give a speech on U.S.-Mexico relations.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, meanwhile, defended Mexico and Peru and described as ''outrageous'' Castro's charges against the two countries.
''Castro, as usual, tried to point the finger of blame in the other direction, back at Mexico and Peru. And Mexico and Peru have responded, in my judgment, appropriately,'' Powell said during the annual Council of the Americas conference.
In a May Day speech Saturday, Castro condemned both countries' support of a U.N. resolution adopted in Geneva last month that criticized Cuba's human rights record.
He said the prestige Mexico once gained in Latin America and throughout the world for its foreign policies had ''turned to ashes'' with its vote. Castro also insulted Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, saying, ``He can't run anything; he leaves that to the transnational corporations and the oligarchs.''
Mexico's action came after officials concluded that Havana had interfered directly in the country's internal affairs when high-ranking members of the Cuban Communist Party entered Mexico on diplomatic passports and plotted with leftist Mexico City politicians to discredit the Fox government.
The Mexican government reduced the level of bilateral relations with Cuba to charge d'affairs. Peru took the same action and said its ambassador to Havana would be recalled.
Peru's foreign ministry issued a terse statement saying it ``energetically rejects the offensive remarks of the Cuban president against Peru, and they will inevitably affect bilateral relations.''
Cuban-Mexican relations, after decades of warm ties, have deteriorated since 1999, when former president Ernesto Zedillo ordered his foreign minister, Rosario Green, to meet with Cuban dissidents during a summit in Havana.
In the past, Mexico had a tacit agreement with Cuba, whereby Mexico was Latin America's closest ally of the Castro regime in exchange for Cuba's commitment not to support guerrilla movements in Mexico.
Relations worsened when Fox took office in 2000, and especially after Castro secretely taped and made public a telephone conversation with Fox in 2002 trying to persuade Castro to leave a summit meeting in Monterrey before the arrival of President Bush.
''The countries of Latin America, most of them, have always looked on Cuba a little differently than the United States,'' said Lowell Fleischer, a political science professor at George Washington University. ``Any departure from that benign picture of Cuba is significant, but I wouldn't read too much into it.''
The most recent dispute stems from an ongoing bribery scandal that came to light from widely circulated videotapes showing Mexico City officials accepting huge sums of money from business magnate Carlos Ahumada.
Ahumada fled to Cuba in February and was extradited to Mexico City last week.
But Cuba implied that the case was being used for political purposes to discredit the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), which governs Mexico City. Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, viewed as a leading contender for the presidency in 2006, has alleged the Fox administration was deliberately trying to hurt his image.
Mexican officials also were displeased with visits by members of Cuba's Communist Party Central Committee who met with unidentified leftist Mexico City officials in what is being viewed as an attempt to discredit the Fox administration.
Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy institute, said Mexico-Cuba relations are ``unlikely to get much better during Fox's tenure.
''He can't risk warming up to Castro and then getting hit again,'' Hakim said.
Herald staff writer Frank Davies in Washington contributed to this report.