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Posted June 12, 2003 by publisher in US Embargo

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BY ANITA SNOW | Associated Press

HAVANA - Cuba lashed out at the European Union on Wednesday, accusing the 15-nation bloc of serving U.S. interests through recent criticisms of the Fidel Castro government.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, using language usually reserved for Washington, accused Spain’s government of funding dissident groups that Havana claims are being organized by the United States.

Perez Roque made a vague threat to Madrid’s Spanish Cultural Center in Havana, saying “Cuban authorities will take the appropriate measures to convert this center into an institution that truly meets the noble aim of popularizing Spanish culture.’’

Later, the government urged Havana residents to join a protest planned for today outside the embassies of Spain and Italy.

The European Union has been criticized in Cuba for announcing a review of its policies toward the island after Castro’s government imposed prison sentences of up to 28 years on 75 dissidents and executed three men who hijacked a passenger ferry.

In Brussels, Belgium, EU spokesman Diego de Ojeda declined to specifically address Cuba’s charges.

‘‘Our main objective is to integrate Cuba back into the community of democratic and market economy nations,’’ De Ojeda said. “We need Cuba to at the very least respect a minimum standard of the most basic human rights.’‘

The statement from the European Union on Thursday said it was “deeply concerned about the continuing flagrant violation of human rights and of fundamental freedoms of members of the Cuban opposition and of independent journalists.’‘

EU members unanimously agreed to reduce high-level governmental visits, reduce the participation of member states in cultural events on the island and review relations overall.

Less than two months ago, the EU opened a new office in Havana that officials hoped would improve relations between Europe and Cuba.

‘‘It’s too much,’’ Perez Roque said. “After exhausting its patience and capacity for dialogue and tolerance, Cuba feels obliged to reply to what it considers to be the European Union’s hypocritical behavior.’‘

Meanwhile, in Washington the U.S. State Department said Wednesday that 15 countries, including Cuba, have made no significant efforts to stop trafficking in humans and may face sanctions.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said “it is appalling and morally unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are exploited, abused and enslaved by peddlers in human misery.’‘

With Cuba, Greece, Turkey, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, Suriname and Uzbekistan face sanctions.

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