- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

The main office of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana has been without electricity since June 5, water is available only sporadically and U.S. diplomats have begun burning “nonessential” documents, the State Department said yesterday.

The State Department called the power cut part of a campaign of harassment of U.S. diplomats by the Cuban government.

“On Monday, June 5th, at approximately 3:00 a.m., electricity to the main building at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana was cut off,” said department spokesman Sean McCormack. “The U.S. Interests Section building is the only building in the neighborhood without electricity. I wonder how that happened.”

The U.S. mission is running on backup generators.

Cuba and the United States do not have diplomatic relations. Rather than embassies, they maintain “interests sections” in each other’s capital. Switzerland acts as the official go-between.

Calls to the Swiss Embassy and the Cuba Interests Section in Washington yesterday seeking comment were not returned.

Drew G. Blakeney, a spokesman for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said the harassment of U.S. diplomats was minor compared with the repression of the Cuban people by the regime led by President Fidel Castro.

“The Cuban people, especially human rights and pro-democracy activists, continue to suffer much more severe harassment on a daily basis than does the U.S. Interests Section in Havana,” Mr. Blakeney said.

The State Department said the harassment is thought to be the Cuban response to the U.S. Interests Section’s “outreach” on behalf of the Cuban people.

The U.S. mission infuriated the Castro government at Christmastime when it displayed a lighted sign on the building to flash news and messages to the Cuban people. The initial sign displayed “75” — the number of dissidents jailed by the regime in the past few years.

The Cuban government responded in January by erecting a large billboard to block the messages from the thousands of Cubans who drive, bicycle or walk past the Interests Section each day.

“The American requests to the Cuban government to restore power have gone unanswered,” Mr. McCormack said. “As of this morning, the power remains cut off and the U.S. Interests Section is operating on generator power.”

He added that work at the Interests Section “continues unabated, including interviews of refugees and direct outreach to the Cuban people.”

“I would just say that the bullying tactics of the Castro regime aren’t going to work,” Mr. McCormack said.

The Miami Herald reported late yesterday afternoon that the Interests Section had begun burning “nonessential” papers. State Department officials confirmed the report but said this is a standard procedure when power is out.

The cutoff continues even though Cuban Basic Industry Minister Yadira Garcia told parliament Saturday that a $1 billion program to link hundreds of large generators to the energy grid meant more power was available for peak energy demands.

“In less than eight months, conditions have been created that guarantee that there will be no blackouts in our country due to a lack of generating capacity,” the minister said in her report, published by the official press yesterday.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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