JAY NEWTON-SMALL, Associated Press Writer
BALTIMORE (AP)—Maryland’s agriculture secretary canceled a trade mission to Cuba on Tuesday because of concerns over Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s recent crackdown on dissidents.
The Pride of Baltimore II, a replica of a Baltimore clipper, was to bring the Maryland delegation to Havana on May 24. But the organization that runs the state-owned ship announced Tuesday that it also was dropping Cuba from its itinerary.
“While we are committed to expanding the market for Maryland’s agricultural products, Gov. (Robert) Ehrlich and I share the Bush administration’s serious concerns about making this visit to Cuba at this time,” said Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley.
The Bush administration has repeatedly criticized Castro’s human rights record and the president has said he would veto any bill weakening the more than 40-year-old embargo on the country.
Relations were further strained earlier this month when Fidel Castro’s government sent three men who hijacked a ferry to a firing squad. The executions coincided with an islandwide crackdown on dissidents.
Instead of going to Cuba, the Pride will cruise Dry Tortugas National Park, seven islands about 70 miles west of Key West, Fla.