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Posted May 15, 2003 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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Will weigh options before responding to U.S. move

HAVANA, Cuba (AP)—The U.S. government’s expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats is a move aimed at provoking a confrontation between the two countries, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, adding it will take its time to decide how to respond.

“The Foreign Ministry rejects this new aggressive step by the United States government against our country and our diplomatic representatives in Washington and New York,” read a statement published Wednesday in the Communist Party daily Granma.

“With these actions, the American government shows, once again, that it has openly launched a course of provocations and foreign meddling against Cuba,” it added in the first response by Fidel Castro’s government to the expulsions announced Tuesday.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats—seven from the United Nations and seven from Washington—for engaging in “inappropriate and unacceptable activities.”

The expulsion order is by far the largest ever involving Cuban diplomats.

In Washington, a senior official in Bush’s government said those ordered home from the Cuban mission in Washington had engaged in three kinds of improper activities: monitoring and surveillance, association with known criminals and the attempted recruitment of spies.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the seven Washington-based diplomats were declared “persona non grata.” The seven in New York were expelled for “activities deemed to be harmful to the United States outside of their official capacity,” he said.

Reeker said the 14 were given 10 days to leave the country.

Aimed at confrontation?
“Cuba will take the time necessary to respond this new provocation by the government of the United States,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

It said the expulsions were part of a bigger plan by Cuban exiles in Miami to spark a confrontation that will break migration agreements between the two nations and shut Interests Sections operated in each other’s country.

Because Cuba and the United States lack full diplomatic relations, they do not have embassies in each other’s country. Instead, missions known as Interests Sections in Washington and Havana provide consular services and allow for a minimum of contact between the two countries.

Until Tuesday’s announcement, the largest expulsion involving Cubans was last fall when four were ordered home. Two were expelled for their role in support of Ana Belen Montes, a spy for Cuba who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The other two were based at the United Nations.

U.S. government officials said the move should not be considered a response to the recent sentencing of 75 dissidents to long prison terms. Cuba accused the dissidents of being mercenaries linked to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana—a charge the dissidents and American diplomats denied.

Cuba specialist Philip Peters noted that the announcement of the expulsions came on the eve of a planned Wednesday announcement by U.S. lawmakers who are introducing legislation to end the U.S. travel restrictions on Americans who wish to visit Cuba.

“Maybe that is a coincidence of timing, and maybe we are yet to learn about a new Cuban intelligence operation,” said Peters, a vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Washington-area public policy group

“While the expulsions have nothing to do with the crackdown, they are a tough measure, politically dramatic, and they will earn the President political credit where he needs it in the Cuban American community,” he added.

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