Thursday, January 26, 2006

U.S., Cubans wage flashy war of words

Posted on Wed, Jan. 25, 2006
U.S., Cubans wage flashy war of words
The Cuban government staged a massive protest in Havana outside the U.S.
diplomatic mission, which displayed its own messages to the protesters on a

Havana's billboard war saw more salvos fired Tuesday as the U.S. and Cuban
governments stoked their decades-old confrontation with competing messages.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro shepherded about one million people to a protest
outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Cuban capital in one of his
government's periodic immense protests against Washington.
But just as the 79-year-old leader was about to speak to the masses,
American diplomats couldn't resist taking advantage of a captive audience
and lit up the electronic ticker-tape billboard recently erected on the side
of the building.
''To those who may want to be here, we respect your protest. To those who
don't want to be here, excuse the bother,'' the sign declared in a reference
to strong government pressures that ensure attendance at such protests is
The sign was the latest in a public relations battle between Cuba and the
diplomatic mission, officially known as the U.S. Interests Section, each
using billboards and displays to mock the other.
''To help Cubans shuck off their propaganda strait jacket, we have
creatively used new measures to dialogue with them -- and the streaming,
electronic billboard is just our latest initiative,'' U.S. Interests Section
chief Michael Parmly said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. ``Our goal is to
show Cubans that other long-repressed people have realized their democratic
Another of the billboard's messages Tuesday read, ``Only in totalitarian
societies do governments talk and talk at their people and never listen.''

Castro was clearly irked by the billboard, calling it another
''provocation'' aimed at forcing a total break in U.S.-Cuba relations.
''They turned on the little sign. How brave the cockroaches are,'' Castro
retorted. 'Looks like `Bushecito' gave the order.''
Castro called for the ''March of the People'' two days ago to protest the
U.S. refusal to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile accused in a
1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73. Lasting seven hours and led
by former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, it was one of the largest such
marches in recent years.
''They are beaten. Injustice is on its knees,'' Cuba's government newspaper
Granma quoted Castro as telling the crowd. ``Nobody believes in the
Organized by school, work and military groups, the marchers waved little
red, white and blue Cuban flags and signs showing Posada's face in a
triangle above the words ''Danger: Murderer,'' news agencies reported from
Havana. They chanted ``Bush: fascist! Condemn the terrorist!''
Posada was acquitted by a Venezuelan court in the Cuban airliner explosion,
but escaped from prison while awaiting a government appeal. He was captured
in Miami last year and is being held in Texas by an immigration court;
Tuesday was the last day for evidence to be presented in his efforts to win
his freedom.
''We don't want revenge, we just want justice,'' marcher Lucia Roja, a
retired educator, told the Associated Press.
Marchers like Roja were able to see the U.S. billboard messages, including
the news that the U.S. Treasury Department had decided to allow Cuba to play
in the upcoming World Baseball Classic tournament. They also saw quotes from
Lech Walesa, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.
''Only such regimes would be outraged by the sayings of Martin Luther King,
Vaclav Havel and Gandhi,'' Parmly said.
A U.S. official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to be
quoted by name, said Tuesday's use of the sign was common sense: ``If the
point is to reach people, why not turn it on when a million people are
cruising by?''
The official said the messages deliberately include bad news about the
United States in an attempt to show Cuban people that the U.S. government
does not censor the media.
The U.S. Interests Section would not say how much the billboard cost.
The billboard follows a large sign bearing the number ''75,'' hung last year
from the building's facade as a reference to the 75 Cuban dissidents jailed
in 2003.
The Cuban government retaliated with enormous murals, displayed near the
U.S. diplomatic center, of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.
Other billboards set up around the American mission showed bloody brass
knuckles, bullets and meat hooks stamped with ''Posada & Bush Company.''
Another poster showed the faces of Bush and Hitler with an equal sign
pointing to Posada's face, the AP said.
According to an AP report, the prison abuse sign -- including one with a
swastika bearing a ''Made in the U.S.A.'' stamp -- were removed this week
and replaced with what appeared to be a movie poster showing Bush and Posada
with vampire teeth and blood in their mouths.
The sign purported to advertise an upcoming film dubbed The Murderer,
``coming soon to American courts.''

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