- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

Cuban agents have increased harassment of U.S. diplomats in recent months in a campaign that includes house break-ins, vandalism and crude acts of intimidation, the State Department says in a memo warning U.S. foreign service officers of tough times if they are posted to the island.
Similar acts of harassment are being reported by organizers of Project Varela, a recent petition drive calling for free speech and free elections in the single-party communist state, according to news reports from the island.
The memo obtained by The Washington Times lists three pages of "officially sanctioned provocation," including the "leaving of not so subtle messages behind, (including unwelcome calling cards like urine or feces)."
A declassified version of the memo was distributed on Capitol Hill last month.
"Harassment comes in many forms including: Petty theft, unlocking doors and windows, leaving doors and windows open and air conditioners running when USINT personnel are away," according to the memo. The memo describes U.S. diplomats as being subjected to "campaigns of 'sexual advances' … when their spouses are out of the country."
USINT refers to the U.S. Interests Section, which operates in Havana as an unofficial American Embassy in the absence of formal diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba.
In Washington, the Cuban Interests Section, which serves as Cuba's diplomatic outpost in the United States, declined to comment for this report.
The memo postulates that harassment of American diplomats is being stepped up in proportion to their increased contact with the dissident community, a policy promoted by the Bush administration.
"There has always been some level of harassment, but the Cubans are turning the screws. They are sending a message," said the U.S. official on the condition of anonymity.
The official said many of the 51 U.S. diplomats posted to Cuba have come under increased scrutiny by an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Cuban agents "devoted to the U.S. target."
The Cuban agents seem to be particularly interested in disrupting the lives of U.S. diplomats involved in public diplomacy and outreach.
For example, American diplomats are providing copies of Mark Twain novels, economics 101 textbooks and other educational materials to independent libraries.
"Slowly, but increasingly, the libraries are becoming the center of civil society," the official said.
U.S. officials report the constant calling and hanging up of home telephones and cell phones, the "penetration of houses," breaking into cars and switching radio settings to revolutionary propaganda stations.
According to a former U.S. diplomat, who spent two years in Havana, the family cat of a U.S. economics officer was found with its head bashed in.
U.S. diplomats are required to rent houses provided by the Cuban government. All are alarmed and bugged.
The official said Americans often wake up to an alarm going off and investigate, only to find doors open and muddy footprints on the floor.
One diplomat woke to find his daughter's backpack taken from a room while the television, video recorder and other electronic equipment remained untouched.
"This was not a thief. This was a message. 'We can get in your house, your home. We can get to your child,'" the official said.
On another occasion, a couple had a private discussion in their home about their daughter's susceptibility to mosquito bites.
The next day they returned home to find all their windows open and the house filled with mosquitoes.
In some cases, American diplomats have come home to find someone had urinated on the floor, or defecated "and left it there," the official said.
Excrement is also used by Cubans to harass dissidents.
Last week, more than 100 supporters of Cuban leader Fidel Castro gathered outside the home of Jesus Mustafa Felipe, an activist with Project Varela.
The crowd threw paint and excrement at his house to protest his views, according to wire service reports.
On Tuesday, Mr. Felipe and another Project Varela activist, Robert Montero, were sentenced to 18 months in prison.
The Miami Herald reported that 19 other Project Varela activists were detained Tuesday.
"Threats and acts of aggression and repudiation [directed at Varela activists] have been orchestrated by state security and the Cuban Communist Party," dissident Oswaldo Paya, the leader of Project Varela, said in a statement distributed by the University of Miami's Cuba Transition Project.
The Varela petition drive gathered tens of thousands of signatures urging multiparty democracy and other reforms. The effort has won several prestigious human rights awards. Mr. Paya and the entire project have been nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.
"When the pope visited Cuba, he said, 'Don't be afraid.' The people of Cuba are losing their fear of the regime," said the State Department official. "The Cuban government is trying to reinstitute that fear."


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