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Cubans seized from embassy (Miami Herald)

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  • Walter Lippmann
    Writing from Washington, Knight-Ridder correspondent Tim Johnson says club-swinging police dispersed the crowds surrounding the Mexican Embassy. Regrettably,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2002
      Writing from Washington, Knight-Ridder correspondent
      Tim Johnson says "club-swinging" police dispersed the
      crowds surrounding the Mexican Embassy. Regrettably,
      no proof exists of the allegation which Johnson reports.
      (Nor any photos of the crowds, either, parenthetically.)

      But don't take MY word for this. If there were photos of
      such brutality (and let's not exclude the possibility of
      photographers from the "free press" who had been
      informed of the hijacking before it took place being in
      the area to take pictures if such brutality took place)
      you would certainly find them by now on the internet.

      But where are the photographs? Check this out:

      Now that the hijacking operation has failed, opponents
      of the Cuban revolution are trying to blame Cuba for
      these events. Here in the Miami Herald, we read:
      "Odilia Collazo, a well known Cuban dissident reached
      by telephone in Havana. ``It's all very weird. Why did all
      these people have criminal records? There wasn't a
      decent person among them.''

      Without having interviewed the (shall we call them the
      "alleged hijackers"?), it is known that the newspaper
      of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma, has reported
      criminial records of 13 of the 21 individuals. That's not
      "all", that's less than 2/3s of them. In time we'll read
      more about these individuals. Here's Granma's take:

      I might add that, during my recent visit to Cuba I met
      and spoke with Cubans who wanted to leave the island.
      They presumably think they'd have a better life in the
      United States of America, which they haven't visited.

      But only a few are foolish enough to hijack buses to
      try to leave the country. Many Cubans grumble about
      one or another inconvenience in Cuban life, and there
      ARE quite a few of those. But most Cubans continue to
      be reasonably law-abiding people regardless of their
      feelings on other matters. Maybe this latest failed
      operation will deter others from such dubious steps.

      Cubans seized from embassy
      SATURDAY - MARCH 2, 2002

      Cubans seized from embassy
      Castro police arrest 21 men in bus crash

      WASHINGTON -- Responding to a request from Mexico, special
      police forces in Cuba entered the Mexican Embassy in Havana
      before dawn Friday and forcibly removed 21 young men who had
      crashed through a gate into the diplomatic compound 30 hours

      Mexico appealed to President Fidel Castro to treat those
      arrested in a humane manner. Officials in Washington echoed
      the appeal. The whereabouts of the detainees were unclear,

      The episode began Wednesday evening when 21 young men rammed
      a hijacked bus through a metal gate of the Mexican Embassy
      in the Miramar section of Havana. In their wake, hundreds of
      young Cubans flocked to the compound, seeking a way to leave
      the island. They were dispersed by club-swinging security
      forces. More than 150 Cubans were arrested.

      Cuba, in a four-paragraph statement, described the 21 men as
      ''criminals, anti-social elements and lumpen'' and said 13
      of the 21 had criminal records ranging from armed robbery to
      drug trafficking. ''Lumpen'' is a pejorative Marxist term
      used to describe allegedly inferior members of the working

      ''At 4:30 a.m., a special unarmed squad carried out the
      eviction, which took place in an orderly fashion and
      according to the request and desire of the Mexican
      government, without the slightest incident,'' a Cuban
      statement said. Police placed trucks and other obstacles
      near the embassy to prevent reporters outside from seeing
      the night-time operation. Journalists heard occasional

      Castro became personally involved in the incident, which
      threatened to embarrass Mexican President Vicente Fox
      following his state visit to Havana in early February.
      Mexico has maintained diplomatic ties with Cuba
      throughout Castro's 43 years in power.

      Current relations are less cordial than in the past,
      however, in part because Fox visited with dissidents
      on the island Feb. 4, but the countries' relationship
      remains generally friendly.


      ''[Castro] himself designed . . . this operation,'' the
      Mexican Embassy's No. 2 official, Andres Ordoñez, who
      witnessed the events, told Reuters. ``There was no blood . .
      . the whole thing took six minutes with an impressive
      neatness and efficiency.''

      Much about the episode remained unclear -- including whether
      the break-in was organized or spontaneous and whether other
      political motives may have played a role.

      Mexico said the young men appeared to be ''led and
      manipulated'' to force their way into its embassy and noted
      in a statement that ``none of the intruders sought political
      asylum or diplomatic asylum, or offered evidence that they
      were subject to persecution or that their lives were in

      ''This is very murky,'' said Odilia Collazo, a well known
      Cuban dissident reached by telephone in Havana. ``It's all
      very weird. Why did all these people have criminal records?
      There wasn't a decent person among them.''


      Mexico said it repeatedly appealed to the young men to leave
      the diplomatic compound and finally asked Cuban authorities
      to intervene using ``a minimum of force.''

      ''From the moment they entered, we told them we considered
      them criminal intruders . . . but we are not going to bring
      charges,'' Ordoñez told Reuters. ``They were manipulated . .
      . their sociocultural level is extremely modest. They have
      no idea what the world is about.''

      Mexico's ambassador to Havana, Ricardo Pascoe, told the
      EFE news agency that Mexico was determined not to let the
      incident spark a mass arrival of Cubans to swamp the
      embassy in an attempt to leave the island.

      ''Fortunately, it was resolved quickly,'' Pascoe said.
      ``There was the memory of what happened at the Peruvian
      Embassy, and we weren't willing for that to occur again.''

      GENESIS OF MARIEL In 1980, in an event that began in a
      similar fashion, some 10,000 Cubans swept into the Peruvian
      Embassy in Havana after a bus broke through its gates.
      The crisis led Castro temporarily to ease restrictions on
      emigration, prompting an exodus of some 125,000 Cubans
      in a boatlift from the port of Mariel to Florida.

      Incursions into other embassies erupted in subsequent years
      but none triggered a major crisis.

      Pascoe said he and Gustavo Iruegas, Mexico's deputy foreign
      minister for the Caribbean and Latin America, met with
      Castro at 3:30 a.m. ''to review the situation again and
      figure out if an eviction was really needed,'' EFE quoted
      him as saying. ``We agreed that there was no alternative.''

      Pascoe said the Cubans voiced only a general desire to
      travel to Mexico.

      In Mexico City, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Gloria Abella
      said the intruders were ``young people facing a difficult
      economic situation, like many in Latin America.''

      Wary of a new wave of disorderly and massive migration from
      Cuba, U.S. officials reacted cautiously, asking only that
      the arrested Cubans be treated fairly.

      ''We believe they must be treated justly, transparently,
      without reprisals, and in accordance with international
      humanitarian standards,'' State Department spokesman
      Richard Boucher said.

      Boucher rejected a Cuban assertion that Radio Martí, a
      U.S.-financed medium that broadcasts short-wave newscasts to
      the island, maliciously instigated the embassy break-in by
      repeatedly airing a remark by Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge
      Castañeda that ``the doors of the embassy [of Mexico in
      Havana] are open to all Cubans.''


      ''Radio Martí is a professional media outlet. They reported
      the story accurately, the way other media outlets in Miami
      did,'' Boucher said. He defended Fox's meeting with
      dissidents Feb. 4 in Havana.

      ``We would hope that all embassies in Havana would be able
      to maintain and expand relations with dissidents and with
      other independent voices in Cuba.''

      Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
      said the Mexican Embassy incident had threatened to
      snowball. ''Hundreds and hundreds of people eventually
      showed up [outside the Mexican Embassy],'' he said. 'They
      thought, `Hey, they're giving away visas at the Mexican
      Embassy and I want to get one before they run out.' ''

      Collazo, who is president of a small opposition group, the
      Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba, said she believed the
      episode had been engineered by the Castro government
      to send Fox a message.

      ''The main intention was to show the Mexicans that as long
      as they have relations with dissidents [to Castro], problems
      will occur for them,'' she said.

      Copyright (c) 2002 Miami Herald

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