Thursday, January 26, 2006

Castro says billboard threatens US ties

Castro says billboard threatens US ties
By Anthony BoadleWed Jan 25, 11:26 PM ET

President Fidel Castro said on Wednesday the electronic billboard flashing
human rights messages from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana threatened
the few diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba.
But he said Cuba, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with
Washington since 1961, had nothing to lose.
"The only purpose of this garbage is to provoke the destruction of those
tenuous links, as if we needed them," Castro told foreign reporters.
The two governments, bitter enemies since Castro came to power in a 1959
revolution, do not have formal diplomatic relations. Interests offices were
opened in each other's capital during U.S. President Jimmy Carter's
administration. Washington has enforced sanctions against Cuba since 1962.
Castro accused U.S. diplomats of breaking the rules of international
diplomacy by funding his opponents and "smuggling" tons of equipment into
Cuba in diplomatic pouches, including cameras and radios handed to
Cuba, which buys $400 million a year in food imports from the United States
under an exception to the U.S. trade embargo, had taken steps to guarantee
alternative supplies, Castro said.
The Cuban leader spoke to reporters during a nighttime visit to workers
building a structure in front of the U.S. Interests Section that will
apparently block the view of the electronic billboard.
Brigades of workers began the task on Tuesday night, hours after Castro and
hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched past the mission to protest the
5-foot-high (1.5-meter) ticker that streams messages across the facade of
the Interests Section.
U.S. diplomats said Cuba's communist authorities were building a wall or
screen to obstruct the view of the ticker, which displays messages to the
Cuban people, news headlines and quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi
and Lech Walesa.
"Building walls to isolate Cubans from the rest of the world is what the
regime knows best," a spokesperson for the Interests Section said.
Cuban officials said they were extending an open-air stage that has been the
main venue for political rallies against the United States since 2000.
The ticker across the 25 windows of the fifth floor of the Interests Section
on Havana's Malecon waterfront is a new salvo in a decades-old propaganda
war between Washington and Havana.
Last year, Cuba set up billboards with pictures of abused Iraqi prisoners at
the site in reply to a Christmas decoration displaying the number of
dissidents jailed in a political crackdown.
On Tuesday, Castro called U.S. diplomats "cockroaches" and accused the
administration of President George W. Bush of seeking a new crisis between
the United States and Cuba with "perfidious" provocations.
As Castro spoke from a podium, the U.S. ticker flashed "Conservatives win
elections in Canada" and other news headlines in bright letters in full view
of the marchers.
The headlines were followed by quotes from Lincoln, Gandhi and Walesa,
founder of the Solidarity movement that toppled Poland's communist
government and helped bring about the collapse of Soviet control over
Eastern Europe.
The ticker began flashing messages on January 16 with the words "I have a
dream that one day this nation will rise up" from civil rights leader Martin
Luther King Jr.'s 1963 speech.
U.S. diplomats said they wanted to break the "information blockade" or
censorship of Cuba's state-run media.

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