Excluded Cuba slams "brutal" Canada as U.S. pawn

Andrew Cawthorne

Smarting at its exclusion from the Summit of the Americas in Quebec on grounds of its lack of democracy, Havana hit back on
Saturday at summit host Canada as a puppet of Washington's "anti-Cuban" policy.

"We wonder if Canadian policy towards Cuba is being drawn up in Ottawa or Washington," said a government communique responding to comments by Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley criticizing President Fidel Castro's one-party system as anti-democratic.

"Foreign Minister Manley, with his meddling and anti-Cuban language, confirms his growing subordination to and alignment with the U.S. empire's foreign policy," said the statement from Cuban Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aymee
Hernandez.

Canada, she said, had "abandoned its Third World vocation in the foreign arena, which for many years was its mark of distinction and a source of pride for Canada and Canadians."

Cuba, also infuriated by a U.N. Human Rights' Commission censure -- backed by Canada -- in Geneva last week, said Ottawa's position towards it was "frankly unacceptable and offensive" given its own "dubious record" on indigenous
people's rights and protesters currently outside the summit.

"It is ironic to hear lessons from the foreign minister of a government which today is brutally repressing in the streets of Quebec the voices of a very important segment of its population," spokeswoman Hernandez said.

Canada is one of Cuba's most important investors and trade partners and maintained an official policy of "constructive engagement" with the communist-ruled nation until relations took a turn for the worse several years' ago.

Since Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien's failed plea for the release of four prominent dissidents during a 1998 visit, Ottawa has taken a more openly critical stance towards Castro's government on rights and democracy.

BARRAGE OF ATTACKS

Cuba's blast at Canada on Saturday was the latest in a barrage of aggressive official propaganda supporting protesters
in Quebec, haranguing summit organizers, and responding one-by-one to the nations who voted against Havana in Geneva.

A Czech-sponsored motion denouncing Cuba for "continuing repression of members of the political opposition" was passed at the rights' commission by 22 votes to 20, with 10 abstentions.

That vote was welcomed by Cuban dissidents, who say they face constant harassment by a totalitarian system, but authorities insist their rights' record -- particular on social matters like health and education -- is second to none.

In a lengthy intervention on state TV late Friday, Cuban Foreign Ministry Felipe Perez Roque expressed particular indignation with fellow Latin American nations who, crucially for the final vote tally, did not back the Castro government.

Dealing first with Mexico, which is Cuba's traditionally strongest ally in Latin America, Foreign Minister Perez said only "the solidarity of the Mexican people" guaranteed an abstention vote from that country in Geneva despite the personal tendencies of Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda.

In a growing war of words with Castaneda, the Cuban minister said the Mexican "is susceptible to pressures from the United States, he is compromised with them, he is dazzled by their power and has a well-known political history of disloyalties."

On another Latin American powerhouse, Argentina, which voted against Cuba, Perez deliberately repeated a recent inflammatory description by Castro of the Buenos Aires government as "licking the boot of the Yankees."

"Never was a description of a government so apt as this one," Perez said of a comment which led to the withdrawal of the Argentine ambassador from Havana
in a still-unresolved spat.

He also blasted Costa Rica and Guatemala, both of whom voted in Geneva to censure Cuba, as being "subordinate" to Washington.