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Envoy accused of aiding dissent

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cuba accused the top U.S. diplomat in the country yesterday of delivering mail to political dissidents that contained money from a Miami-based anti-Castro exile group whose leader is in jail in the U.S. on weapons charges.

Officials in Havana said they intercepted e-mail messages showing that Michael E. Parmly, head of the U.S. Interests Section, brought the cash from Miami and gave it to dissidents Martha Beatriz Roque and Laura Pollan.

Mr. Parmly was "a facilitator of payments, of contacts and remittances from a terrorist based in Miami to counterrevolutionaries in Cuba," said Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's North America department.

She said the funds came from the organization of Santiago Alvarez, a close associate of Luis Posada Carriles, another exile in Miami whom Havana has accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban Airlines jet that killed 73 people.

"One has to wonder if the government of the United States, which has made fighting terrorism the center of its foreign policy, is aware that its top diplomat in Havana is collaborating with a notorious terrorist," Ms. Vidal was quoted by wire reports as saying at a press conference.

Havana reportedly has taken no official action against Mr. Parmly, who is due to rotate out of Cuba.

Neither the State Department nor the Interests Section, which is a substitute for an embassy because Cuba and the United States have no formal diplomatic relations, responded directly.

"The only assistance of which I'm aware is the U.S. government providing humanitarian assistance to the families of political prisoners that the Cuban government has essentially abandoned," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. "We do not stand in the way of private groups doing that as well."

The Cuban government repeatedly has labeled the U.S. aid for dissidents illegal, but this is the first time it has made an accusation involving private funds.

Dissidents rejected the charge and called it a fabrication.

"This is just another fast one by the government, because the Americans do not give us any money at all," Noelia Pedraza, a member of Ms. Pollan's group, Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), told Reuters news agency.

Mrs. Pedraza's husband, Ariel Sigler, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Dissident Hector Palacios Ruiz, once an official in the Cuban Communist Party, said the accusations against Mr. Parmly do not ring true.

"I have been jailed three times by the Cuban government and never has any U.S. diplomat given anything to me or the people I know," Mr. Palacios said when contacted by phone in Miami.

"Dissident groups like ours have lots of needs, but don"t get much help," said the director of the Center for Social Studies and founder of the Democratic Solidarity Party.

"I"ve never seen an American Embassy employee or any other embassy"s officials handling money transfers to opposition groups," he said.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, who was born in Cuba, said Sunday that the Bush administration seeks to spotlight the plight of political prisoners on the island.

"These are people who in many cases have just disagreed with the regime," Mr. Gutierrez told CNN. "The problem is communism. It doesn't work. The problem is the policies in Cuba, the repression, the fear."

Carmen Gentile contributed to this article from Miami.