Cubans seized from embassy (Miami Herald)
- 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
BY TIM JOHNSON
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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