Friday, May 23, 2008

Officials Demand Explanations from US on Dissident Funds

By Patricia Grogg The Cuban government demanded that the United States provide explanations for what it described as "obscure ties" between U.S. diplomatic personnel in Havana, "terrorist" groups in Miami and members of dissident organisations, in a case that has further heated up relations between the two countries. "We demand that they face up to this," said Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque in a news briefing Thursday, after three different TV programmes were aired between Monday and Wednesday exhibiting the results of an investigation that allegedly showed that U.S. diplomats ferried money to dissident groups in Cuba. Although he described the incidents as "extremely serious," Pérez Roque did not indicate whether the government planned to close down the Interests Sections opened in Havana and Washington in 1977 to provide consular services and maintain a minimal channel of communication, in the absence of diplomatic ties since 1961. In the decades-long conflict between the two countries, the U.S. embargo is the thorniest issue, costing Cuba some 89 billion dollars in four and a half decades, according to Havana. This is not the first time that Cuba has accused the U.S. Interests Section (SINA) of serving as the "chief headquarters" of dissident groups. However, the accusations this time have been stepped up a notch, going beyond questions of ideology and into the terrain of national security. In Pérez Roque’s view, the most serious aspect is the origin of the funds that he said were carried in letters, on several occasions, by SINA chief Michael Parmly and SINA official Robert Blau. He said the funds were brought in at the request of Martha Beatriz Roque, a dissident with radical views who heads the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society. The official reports referred to investigations by Cuban intelligence, which intercepted emails, telephone calls and receipts signed by Roque and other dissidents in Havana revealing that funds were sent from the Legal Rescue Foundation based in Miami, Florida and headed by Cuban-American citizen Santiago Álvarez. Álvarez, who is currently in prison in the United States for weapons possession and other offences, is a long-time anti-Castro activist with a record of violent action against Cuba, and a key supporter of Luis Posada Carriles, whose extradition from the United States has been requested by Venezuela, which wants to try him for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner in which 73 people were killed. "It is money stained with blood, that comes from terrorists," said Pérez Roque. However, the minister did not make it clear whether legal action would be taken against the recipients of the funds. "This is an ongoing investigation of terrorism and its connection with subversives in Cuba, and we must await the results," he said. Laura Pollán, of the Women in White movement, signed a receipt for 2,500 dollars to be distributed among 18 wives of imprisoned dissidents. She told IPS that "at no time" did they know that the funds "had anything to do with Santiago Álvarez." "Martha Beatriz brought it to us, and it was humanitarian aid from the Legal Rescue Foundation," she said. "We didn’t know that Álvarez was the main benefactor," said Pollán, who described the Women in White, so called because of the colour they wear in their demonstrations, as "peaceful women" who are merely seeking the release of their husbands. Pollán’s husband is one of 75 dissidents imprisoned in 2003 on charges of conspiring with Washington. Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a moderate dissident who is critical of U.S. policy towards Cuba, told IPS by telephone that he had no doubt that Álvarez is in favour of violent action, "which has doomed any role he could have played in this country to failure." In the view of political scientist and researcher Rafael Hernández, the investigation showed that "dissident groups are not just ordinary Cubans expressing a different point of view, who limit themselves to using freedom of conscience and of expression and are peacefully fighting for democracy and freedom, but are allies of a foreign power." That, he said, is the "central message" that the government of Raúl Castro is sending to the United States, the European Union, dissident groups, and the Cuban exile community in Miami, which does not quite know what to make of the recent opening up of debate in Cuba. But he said the main target of the Cuban government’s message would be the U.S. administration, in case "it is thinking that, with the broadening of public debate and the changes introduced by Raúl, there might be a new climate that they can turn to their own advantage, including the use of these groups." Hernández remarked that the media offensive is also directed at the EU and other governments concerned about human rights in Cuba, which consider the dissidents to be "punished for crimes of conscience," in spite of their own embassies in Havana "knowing perfectly well who they are and what they’re up to." Hernández, the editor of the cultural journal Temas, said that political parties, whether legal or illegal, do not fit into a definition of civil society in any part of the world, and the dissident groups that operate in his country "do not organically represent any social sector, nor are they backed by a consensus." "Their support comes from abroad, and mainly from the United States, other governments and the Cuban-American right. Now if we’re talking about a diversity of positions and political change, these are clearly present in Cuba’s own organisations and civil society institutions," he said.

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