- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The United States has expelled 14 Cuban diplomats based in Washington and New York for “unacceptable activities” and “activities inconsistent with diplomatic status,” the State Department said yesterday.

Spokesman Philip T. Reeker also said the United States was reviewing its policies toward Cuba in light of a deteriorating human rights situation in the communist nation, where more than 70 journalists and dissidents were jailed last month by Fidel Castro’s regime.

Seven diplomats based in the Cuban Interests Section, housed in the Swiss Embassy in Washington, were given 10 days to leave the country as of yesterday morning, Mr. Reeker said.

“We’ve declared them persona non grata, requiring their departure from the United States,” he said.

Another seven diplomats were ordered to leave from the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York for “activities deemed to be harmful to the United States outside of their official capacities as members of the permanent mission of Cuba to the United Nations,” Mr. Reeker said.

The Cuban mission, headed by Ambassador Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, refused to comment.

Mr. Reeker declined to elaborate on the reasons for the expulsions or to provide the names of those expelled. He said a “range of officers” — but not the heads of the missions — were being forced out.

He said the State Department called the Cubans from the Interests Section at 9 a.m. yesterday and delivered the notice verbally and with a diplomatic note.

According to Mr. Reeker, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington is authorized to have 26 permanently accredited staff. The Cuban mission in New York had 37 diplomats. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana is permitted 51 positions.

Despite renewed trade with Cuba over the past year and a push to lift the ban on travel to Cuba, diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana have grown increasingly bitter.

Last month, the United States walked out of a U.N. meeting to protest Cuba’s election to the world body’s Human Rights Commission.

“We are reviewing all of our policies in our approach to Cuba in light of the significant deterioration in their human rights situation there,” Mr. Reeker said.

“So to ensure that we’re doing all we can to support those seeking democratic change, we are reviewing our policies, looking at all aspects of the bilateral relationship.”

But the 28-year-old daughter of jailed Cuban poet and journalist Raul Rivero said yesterday the expulsions were not helpful.

“I don’t welcome that move. I think it is playing a game,” said Cristina Rivero. “Kicking people out of countries and accusing each other does not help,” she said, adding, “I’m trying to free my father.”

Miss Rivero was in Washington with her stepbrother Miguel Angel Sanchez, meeting with activist groups and congressional staff to push for the release of their father, imprisoned after a summary trial last month.

Many of those arrested were accused of being traitors. A number had met with the chief U.S. diplomat in Cuba, James Cason. The State Department has defended Mr. Cason, saying he was seeking a peaceful transition to democracy.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, an Idaho Republican who has co-sponsored a bill to lift the travel ban to Cuba, said in a statement that the spying accusations demonstrate Mr. Castro’s “regime is full of bad intentions, and the sooner it’s gone the better, for not only the Cuban people but America as well.”

Nevertheless, the House and Senate Cuba Working Groups are to introduce legislation today to lift the ban on travel to Cuba.

Mr. Castro’s strong-arm tactics against political opponents, said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, “strengthens our argument that our current policy with Cuba is a total failure.”

“Rather than tightening up restrictions, we should be going in the opposite direction,” Mr. Flake said .

Mr. Reeker said the United States was frustrated by the “lack of parity” between how U.S. diplomats are treated by Cuba and privileges extended to Cuban diplomats in the United States.

“The issue of reciprocity is one such area that’s under review. No specific measures have been taken yet. When we actually complete deliberations and make some decisions, we’ll provide details as we can,” he said, insisting the review was unrelated to the expulsions.

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