- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

Cuban hustle

Pro-democracy advocates bought tickets to a black-tie reception at the Cuban Interests Section over the weekend and then used the occasion to hand out leaflets about human rights abuses under Fidel Castro before security guards evicted them.

Maria Werlau, one of the organizers of the protest, was slightly injured by the guards when they forcibly removed her from the Saturday night reception. She later showed off her bruised arms, calling them a Father’s Day gift to her dad, who was killed during the failed attempt to overthrow Mr. Castro in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

“We were peaceful, but we decided to give them a taste of their own medicine,” Ms. Werlau said yesterday.

The 11 protesters included two American lawyers with no Cuban heritage. The others were Cuban-Americans.

The party was organized by a group called Professionals in the City and heavily advertised as an opportunity “to explore the culture, cuisine and music of Cuba, one of the most fascinating and misunderstood nations of our time.”

Kevin Chaffee, society editor for The Washington Times, said Cuban officials refused to allow his reporter to cover the event.

Ms. Werlau said, “The human rights advocates passed an inspection at the door as Cuban agents carelessly checked names of arriving guests against a long list of alleged opponents to the Castro regime.

“Once upstairs, the pretenders proceeded to taste the food and drink and engage in conversation with young professionals in attendance.”

The protesters circulated among the crowd and distributed cards with messages about human rights abuses in Cuba.

“The side of one card highlighted Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Biscet,” Ms. Werlau said. “One card was dedicated to the thousands of victims of the Castro regime and cited 78 documented cases of minors executed or assassinated.”

Cuban officials soon realized what was going on, confiscated the cards and ordered the group to leave. Most left peacefully and joined another protest across from the Cuban diplomatic mansion on 16th Street Northwest.

However, Ms. Werlau refused to hand over her cards. Two Cuban officials grabbed her by her arms and pulled her down a flight of stairs to the door. All the while, she said she was “crying out, ‘Freedom for Cuba.’”

A spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section did not respond to a request for a comment.

Tajikistan abuse

The United States yesterday denounced the government of Tajikistan for arresting an opposition politician who has vowed to run against the president next year.

Stephan Minikes, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Makhmadrouzi Iskandarov was kidnapped in Moscow after Russia refused to extradite him.

Mr. Minikes said Mr. Iskandarov was “involuntarily returned” to Tajikistan, where he was imprisoned on terrorism charges.

“We further note that Mr. Iskandarov has been denied regular and unobserved access to his legal counsel and that his family has been unable to meet him,” Mr. Minikes said in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

Lebanese ‘milestone’

Lebanon’s parliamentary elections were a “milestone” on the country’s “transformation” after three decades of Syrian domination, the U.S. ambassador in Beirut said yesterday.

“We have full confidence that the parliament and the forthcoming Cabinet in Lebanon will be committed to the type of genuine political, institutional and economic reforms that the Lebanese people so desire and so deserve,” Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman told reporters after meeting with Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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