By Marc Frank | Reuters
Cuban President Fidel Castro and brother Raul Castro led hundreds of thousands of marchers past the Spanish and Italian embassies in Havana on Thursday to protest the European Union’s hardening position toward the country.
Cuba usually reserves its wrath for its longtime ideological foe, the United States, but has been furious with the EU for taking political measures against the Communist-led country after its massive crackdown on dissent in April.
Castro, in a four-hour television appearance Wednesday night, blamed Spain and Italy for the EU’s decision last week to end high-level visits to the Caribbean island, reduce cultural exchanges and invite Castro’s opponents to receptions at its member-nation Havana embassies.
Cuban President Fidel Castro walks in front of the Spanish embassy Thursday, June 12, 2003 in Havana, Cuba. Castro led hundreds of thousands in the march to protest the European Union’s decision to review its relations with the island over human rights concerns. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia)
Castro singled out Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar Wednesday, calling him “a little Fuehrer with a mustache and Nazi-fascist ideology.” He said Aznar wanted to lead the EU into an alliance with the United States against Cuba.
The 76-year-old Castro, dressed in his traditional military garb, led the hordes in the early morning protest at the Spanish Embassy in the colonial district of the capital.
Castro’s younger brother, Raul, second in the Cuban hierarchy, led the march at Italy’s diplomatic mission on the other side of town.
Relations with the EU, Cuba’s largest trading partner and foreign investor, have deteriorated since Cuba imprisoned 75 dissidents for an average 19 years in April, charging they were working with the United States to undermine the Castro government.
Castro said Wednesday that Cuban officials would not attend European receptions if dissidents attended, nor invite EU ambassadors to official government activities.
Castro threatened further measures against EU countries if the dispute worsened, but did not elaborate.
The EU helped the island overcome economic crisis in the 1990s after the collapse of Havana’s former benefactor, the Soviet Union.