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Posted November 28, 2003 by publisher in Cuba-World Trade

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HAVANA—Cuba has told European diplomats not to bother sending Christmas presents this year.

That’s how much relations have soured since the Europeans waged a “cocktail war” over human-rights issues on the island, diplomats said yesterday.

President Fidel Castro’s government has closed it doors to European diplomats in Havana, in retaliation for European criticism of Castro’s crackdown on dissent.

According to diplomats, the EU complained to Cuba Saturday that the lack of access keeps its embassies from functioning properly as provided for in the Vienna Convention.

The freeze-out is hindering consular matters, leaving visiting European tourists at risk, and also causing problems for businessmen, the Europeans complained.

A Cuban official replied that the EU was meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs, one diplomatic source said.

Two days later, European diplomats were summoned to the foreign ministry and told Christmas gifts would be returned. “If we sent presents, we were told, they would be sent back,” one diplomat said.

In March, Castro ordered the arrest of 75 opponents, the harshest political crackdown in decades on the Caribbean island, one of the world’s last five communist states. The dissidents were given prison sentences of up to 27 years.

The execution in April of three men who hijacked a Havana ferry in a failed bid to reach the United States prompted the Europeans to take a stand and publicly reprove Cuba for human-rights abuses.

Brussels took the level of political contacts down a notch, and, in a “cocktail war,” EU embassies began inviting dissidents to their national day parties. Angry Cuban officials filed out and never returned.

Castro and his brother, Raul, led protest rallies by hundreds of thousands of people in June outside the embassies of Spain and Italy, whose prime ministers were vilified as fascists.

In a speech on July 26, the 50th anniversary of the first rebel assault in his revolution, the 77-year-old Cuban leader rejected European aid and accused the EU of ganging up on Cuba.

Government’s doors slammed shut on Europe’s diplomats, even though the EU is Cuba’s largest investment and trading partner.

Since then, visiting European desk officers have had to go home without any meetings with the Cuban government.

And while a delegation of Cheshire, England, teachers and a business mission from Glasgow could meet Cuban officials, no British diplomats could be present.

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