Mail and Guardian
Strollers soaking up the sea spray along Havana’s famed Malecon waterfront boulevard absorbed an impromptu lesson on America’s civil rights movement this week when the United States mission began flashing passages from Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech on a giant screen.
In the latest exchange in the US-Cuban cultural war, the electronic tickertape mounted on the fifth floor of the US Interests Section in Havana began beaming King’s quotes in 2,7 metre-high red letters.
The passages were interspersed with sections from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promising freedom from arbitrary arrest or exile, and inspirational sayings from anti-communist leaders such as Poland’s Lech Walesa and the Czech Republic’s Vaclav Havel.
The illuminations so outraged Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro, that he called for a mass protest today in front of the mission, which is housed in the Swiss embassy. In a three-hour televised speech on Sunday night, Castro described the signs as a provocation intended to break off what limited contact has survived between the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations. “The US government ... is deliberately trying to force a rupture in the actual diplomatic relations,” he said. “The gross provocation ... can have no other purpose.”
After the scandals about the abuse of detainees at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib prisons, the US was in no position to deliver a lecture about human rights, he added. “They should put those signs inside, not outside.”
The US said the messages were an attempt to open a dialogue with the Cuban people.
Such cultural catfights have occurred before. In 2004, the US office beamed up the figure 75—the number of dissidents being held in Cuban prisons. Cuba retaliated with billboards depicting bounded and hooded Iraqis abused by US troops at Abu Ghraib.