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Cuba to cut U.S. phone ties in retaliatory move

 

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Cuba said on Friday it will cut phone ties with the United States from next week in retaliation for the failure of American companies to pay a new tax imposed by Havana in response to U.S. use of frozen Cuban funds.

The measure -- the second cut-off by Cuba in the last two years -- would hit communications between Cubans on the island and the large Cuban American community in Florida and elsewhere in the United States during the approaching holiday season.

A statement from the Council of State, the communist-run island's highest governing body, said U.S. phone companies had informed Cuban state telecom ETECSA they had not been authorized by the U.S. government to pay a new 10 percent tax.

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Cuba slapped that charge on calls between the two nations in October in response to a measure passed by the U.S. Congress allowing the use of frozen Cuban funds to compensate the families of Cuban-American pilots killed when their planes were shot down by a Cuban MiG fighter in 1996.

"For this motive, it was decided to totally suspend direct telephone communications for the international service between Cuba and the United States," Havana's statement said.

Back in October, Cuba warned phone links could be cut if Washington resisted the tax, which would raise already high international phone costs in Cuba.

Under the October decree, Cuba's national phone company, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones S.A. (ETECSA), a Cuban-Italian joint venture, was to retain the additional funds generated by the 10 percent tax, levied on every minute of all phone calls between the two countries.

Phone ties between the United States and Cuba are provided by ETECSA and half a dozen U.S. firms that share the proceeds.

In an earlier dispute over frozen phone payments in early 1999, Havana -- which has had no formal diplomatic ties with Washington for the last four decades -- cut five of seven phone circuits between the nations. They were restored in April of this year.

The latest dispute dates from a bill passed by the U.S. Congress in October allowing use of the frozen Cuban funds, a move Havana at the time condemned as "robbery."

The U.S. legislation targeted frozen funds due to Cuba's phone company for communications services between the two countries between 1966 and 1994. These are estimated by Havana to total more than $120 million.

Cuba had said the 10 percent phone tax would remain in place "until the complete return, with corresponding interest, of the Cuban funds illegally frozen in the United States."

Cuba blames the U.S. government for the 1996 shoot-down of the two small planes, whose four crew members were killed by missiles fired by a Cuban fighter. The four dead men belonged to a Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, which searched for Cuban rafters leaving the island.

Havana said the four had engaged in "provocative" flights close to the island that U.S. authorities were tolerating.

The October decree said use of the frozen Cuban funds to compensate the dead pilots' families would prompt similar violations and "acts of air and sea piracy by terrorist groups which feel they have the backing to act with impunity."

A powerful anti-Castro group in Miami, the Cuban American National Foundation, condemned the imminent phone cut-off as an illegal, cynical and dictatorial tactic by Castro.

"As if we needed more evidence, again we see who the real Fidel Castro is," said CANF executive vice president Dennis Hays in a statement faxed to foreign news media in Havana.

"Just as we start the Christmas period, Castro is willing to summarily cut what has become a vital link for Cuban families, purely to avoid the consequences of his responsibility in the death of U.S. citizens."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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RELATED SITES:
The Cuban American National Foundation
Empresa de Telecomunicaciones (Spanish)
Brothers to the Rescue (Hermanos al Rescate)
Cubaweb
U.S. State Department
  • Information on Cuba
  • Cuban Adjustment Act Fact Sheet
I.N.S. Information for Cuban Immingrants
Amnesty International
  • 1999 Report on Cuba


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