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Us orders explusion 14 diplomats { May 14 2003 }

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U.S. Orders Expulsion of 14 Cuban Diplomats

By Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 14, 2003; Page A01

UNITED NATIONS, May 13 -- The United States has ordered the expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats posted in Washington and at the United Nations on the grounds they were conducting "activities outside their official capacity," a phrase that is used as diplomatic shorthand for espionage, the Bush administration announced today.

The move marks an escalation of the administration's recent diplomatic feud with Cuba in the wake of a crackdown on dissidents by Cuban President Fidel Castro and its active opposition to the war in Iraq. It comes a week after the United States sharply criticized Cuba's election to the U.N. Human Rights Commission when human rights organizations are charging the communist government in Havana with increased abuses.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the specific nature of the charges against the Cuban officials. But State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the Cuban government has "a long record" of spying on the United States, citing a number of recent episodes. They included the case of Ana Belen Montes, a senior analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison last year for providing the Cuban government with classified documents, photographs and the names of at least four covert operatives working in Cuba.

The United States retaliated against Havana in October by expelling two Washington-based Cuban diplomats and two U.N.-based Cuban officials suspected of engaging in espionage.

The most senior diplomat among those ordered expelled today is Cosme Torres, the deputy chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. Spokesman Juan Hernandez was also among the seven. The mission did not respond to telephone calls today.

U.S. officials said the expulsions were based on specific Cuban activities and were not a response to Cuba's opposition to the war against Iraq, or to the arrests of 75 democratic and human rights activists on the island last month.

But there is no question that "Cuba came into the special vision of folks here" after its effort to promote a special U.N. General Assembly session to discuss the Iraq war, an official said. "The Cubans made a run at a similar effort at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights" last month, the official said. "They were the principal instigator." Both efforts failed.

At the same time, officials said the expulsions were not related to the arrests in Cuba, although, as one official put it, "the fact is that we're very concerned about the human rights situation in Cuba."

Politically powerful Cuban Americans, many of whom believe President Bush owes his presidency to their votes in Florida, have long pressed the administration to tighten the trade embargo and travel restrictions against Cuba. Until recently, however, Bush has limited himself to escalating rhetoric against the Castro government and the appointment of a number of anti-Castro Cuban Americans to senior positions in his administration.

But bilateral relations have been on a steady downward spiral since last summer, with a series of small irritants in addition to U.S. ire over Cuba's U.N. actions on Iraq. In June, after Havana refused a U.S. request to expand the limits to U.S. official travel there beyond the Havana city limits, Washington tightened travel restrictions on Cuban diplomats in this country. Last fall, Cuba put further limits on the number of annual visas given to U.S. government temporary workers. In the fall came the expulsion of four Cuban officials. In March, the administration imposed new restrictions on licensed travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens.

Growing tension erupted into outright hostility after Cuba's arrest of the 75 dissidents, many of whom were known personally to the growing number of U.S. legislators and business executives who have traveled there in recent years. Cuba charged that the chief U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason, had provoked the arrests by meeting improperly with the dissidents and promoting illegal acts against the government. Castro and other senior Cuban officials charged that the administration was trying to provoke an uprising or a mass exodus of Cubans to Florida, as happened in 1980 and 1994.

The administration recently began internal discussions of what other retaliatory measures it could take against Cuba. The State Department is reviewing U.S. policy, including the consideration of possible new restrictions on the activities of U.S.-based Cuban diplomats in the United States.

"We've long been frustrated by the lack of parity between how U.S. diplomats are treated by their Cuban hosts . . . and the privileges extended to Cuban diplomats in the United States," Reeker said.

The United States delivered a letter to the Cuban U.N. mission in midtown Manhattan on Monday ordering that seven of the 37 diplomats posted there leave the country within 10 days. It said that the Cuban officials "were engaged in activities deemed to be harmful to the United States outside their official capacity as members of the permanent mission of Cuba to the United Nations."

The Cubans at the Cuban mission to the United Nations ordered to leave the country are Adrian Francisco Delgado Gonzalez, a counselor who serves as No. 3 official in the mission; Alfredo Jose Perez Rivero, a counselor; Armando Tomas Amieva Dalboys, first secretary; Helmut Domenech Gonzalez, first secretary; Enrique Miguel Mesa Levis, second secretary; Miguel More Santana, third secretary; and Juan Carlos Rodriguez Lueje, attaché.

Seven other Cuban officials working at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington were given 10 days to leave the country. "In response to certain inappropriate and unacceptable activities, the United States has decided to take strong action," Reeker said. "We've declared them persona non grata, requiring their departure from the United States."

The State Department declined to provide the names of the Cuban officials based in Washington.

Although the United States does not have full diplomatic relations with Cuba, officials from the two governments are allowed to post diplomatic missions in each other's capitals to process passports and conduct other consular activities. The Cubans are permitted to employ as many as 26 accredited officials at the interests section in Washington. The United States is allowed 51 posts in Havana.

The Cuban mission in New York is under a separate agreement with the United Nations. Under U.N. host country rules, the United States is permitted to expel foreign diplomats assigned to the United Nations caught "engaging in activities harmful" to the United States and "outside their diplomatic activities."

DeYoung reported from Washington.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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