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Castro warns he might sever U.S. ties

From Lucia Newman
CNN Havana Bureau

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro warned he might sever his country's limited diplomatic relations with the United States in a speech Wednesday before the national assembly.

He accused U.S. diplomats in Havana of violating Cuba's sovereignty and the norms governing diplomatic conduct. Specifically, he chided the United States for distributing hundreds of shortwave radios so Cubans can tune into the Florida-based anti-Castro radio station Radio Marti.

"It is also inadmissible that contraband material can be brought into our country through the diplomatic pouch," Castro said, apparently referring to the radios.

"It will be the responsibility of the government of the United States if it insists on continuing these practices, if this leads to the cancellation of our migration accords, and even the closure of the U.S. interests section in Havana."

It was one of Castro's strongest statements to date regarding the American diplomatic mission in Cuba, which was established during the Carter administration along with a Cuban interests section in Washington.

"This is not something that we wish, since it would signify a lamentable step backwards in the few advances we have managed to achieve in the relations between both countries," Castro added.

Castro made the speech at a special session of the national assembly, which has been meeting this week to vote on a constitutional amendment declaring Cuba's socialist system "untouchable."

Castro insists the assembly vote is a response to what he calls heightened aggression and threats from the Bush administration, which has vowed to tighten U.S. economic sanctions and travel restrictions on the island until Cuba implements democratic reforms, such as multi-party elections.

The warning to close down the American interests section and sever the 1994-95 bilateral immigration accords are an effort to combat what Cuba sees as pro-opposition activism by U.S. diplomats here, U.S. Ambassador Vicky Huddleston in particular.

Cuban officials have repeatedly criticized her for handing out the shortwave radios.

In his speech, Castro also accused U.S. diplomats of trying "to organize networks and conspiracies" by traveling throughout the island and talking with Cubans who have made unsuccessful attempts to reach U.S. soil.

The diplomats are granted rights to check on the welfare of these Cuban citizens, who in many cases were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and returned to Cuba.

In an interview last month with CNN, Huddleston defended her practice of handing out the radios, saying the technology is openly for sale in Cuba anyway.

The Cuban government, she said, "says that they're just tuned to Radio Marti. This is not true. You can move the dial around and listen to Radio Havana Libre or you can listen to Radio Netherlands or you can listen to Radio Marti.

"What the Cuban government doesn't like [is] the choice the people have to listen to anything this little radio can pick up. This is something we do all over the world. We distribute information to try to empower people. We would like to see the Cuban people empowered," Huddleston said.




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