- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Castro seesmessages asprovocation

HAVANA — President Fidel Castro sent hundreds of thousands of Cubans marching past the U.S. mission in Havana yesterday to protest a five-foot-high ticker that streams news and human rights messages across its windows.

Mr. Castro accused the Bush administration of “perfidious” provocation of a new crisis between Havana and Washington.

As he climbed the podium to send off the march, the U.S. ticker flashed “Conservatives win elections in Canada” and other headlines in bright red letters behind him and in full view of the marchers.

The headlines were followed by quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi and Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity movement that toppled Poland’s communist government and led to the collapse of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe.

“They have turned on the display. How brave the cockroaches are. Little Bush must have sent the order,” an angry Mr. Castro said.

The communist leader, who turns 80 in August, did not join the march past the U.S. mission on Havana’s Malecon seafront, as he has in previous protests.

The two governments, bitter enemies since Mr. Castro came to power in a 1959 revolution, do not have formal diplomatic relations and are represented by interests offices opened in each other’s capital during the Carter administration. Washington has enforced sanctions against Communist-run Cuba since 1962.

“The government of the United States … is planning to force a rupture in the current minimum diplomatic links with Cuba. The gross provocations by its Interests Section in Havana can have no other purpose,” Mr. Castro said.

The ticker began displaying messages across 25 windows of the fifth floor of the U.S. mission building on Jan. 16 when it flashed “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up” from U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s famed 1963 speech.

U.S. diplomats said the display is aimed at breaking the “information blockade” or censorship in a country where the press is run by the state.

Mr. Castro also denounced President Bush’s government for harboring anti-Castro extremists in the United States and wanting to free Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born former CIA operative who has been held by the United States since May for illegally entering the country.

Mr. Posada is wanted by Cuba and Venezuela for the blowing up of a Cuban commercial airliner off Barbados in 1976, killing all 73 persons aboard. Cuba also blames him for a wave of blasts in Havana hotels and night spots in 1997.

U.S. authorities have rejected a Venezuelan extradition request for Posada, who escaped from a Caracas jail in 1985.

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