US Secretary of State Colin Powell chided Cuba for displaying Nazi swastikas and pictures of Iraqi prisoner abuse to counter US Christmas decorations in Havana that paid tribute to jailed Cuban dissidents.
“I don’t think that is very wise on their part,” Powell said in the latest volley in the holiday season row that has erupted in the Cuban capital.
The Cubans were infuriated when the US special interests section in Havana put up Christmas lights that included a neon “75”—a pointed reference to 75 dissidents detained in a crackdown last year.
They responded by mounting their own display in front of the US mission, including pictures of prisoner abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and red flags emblazoned with the symbol of Nazi Germany.
Powell, speaking in an interview with the Associated Press, refused to back down on the US decorations, which he called a gesture of solidarity with political prisoners in Cuba.
“And the Cuban government’s response is to put forward and show the world a swastika?” he said, according to a State Department transcript.
“I don’t think that is very wise on their part, and we will continue to stick by our troops down there, our diplomats down there and our Christmas display, with the “75.”
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher rejected Cuban complaints that the reference to the 75 dissidents was a political provocation.
“We think it’s appropriate for this season to put up Christmas lights and to remember the people in jail,” he said. “If the Cuban government thinks that there is a different way to commemorate the season, let them try to explain it.”