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U.S. to Expel 14 Cuban Envoys

Diplomats' activities are termed 'incompatible' with their status. They constituted a 'threat to the security' of the U.S., official says.

May 14, 2003|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The United States is expelling 14 Cuban diplomats in Washington and New York because their "activities were incompatible with diplomatic status," U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The diplomats, seven assigned to the Cuban mission to the United Nations and seven more in the Cuban Interests Section at Switzerland's embassy in Washington, were told they were to leave in a letter from the U.S. mission at the United Nations.

Richard A. Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., declined to release the letter or divulge its entire contents. But he said the Bush administration made it clear that the 14 Cubans would no longer be permitted in this country, hinting there were suspicions that they were spying against the U.S.

"In the letter, we say their activities were deemed to be harmful to the U.S. and constitute an abuse of privilege, and that their activities have been a threat to the security of the United States," he said.

Grenell added: "We certainly know their record of espionage is a long one."

The Cuban government did not immediately respond to the order. An official at the Cuban mission to the U.N., declining to give his name, said: "We have no comment so far. Later? No, I don't know."

Grenell said that in the letter, which was sent Monday, the 14 diplomats and their families were given 48 hours to officially respond to the order to vacate and were advised that they would have to be gone within 10 days.

The diplomats' official titles run from "counselor" to "secretary."

The action by the United States follows a series of harsh measures that the regime of Fidel Castro has imposed in recent weeks in an attempt to silence political dissent in the Caribbean island.

About 75 members of the Cuban opposition who were arrested last month have since been handed lengthy prison sentences, some as long as 25 years behind bars. In addition, three men who unsuccessfully tried to hijack a ferry boat from Cuba to the U.S. were executed last month.

One U.S. official at the U.N. said Tuesday that had the executions not taken place, the Bush administration would probably still have ordered the diplomats out of the United States.

"Even without that incident, we still would have had problems" with Cuba, the official said, declining to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of U.S.-Cuban relations.

In recent weeks, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has indicated that Washington was planning some sort of reprisal for Castro's crackdown on those in Cuba who oppose his government.

"We're reviewing all of our policies and our approach toward Cuba in light of what I think is a deteriorating human rights situation within Cuba," Powell told reporters April 28.

While Castro's government has complained that the U.S. is fomenting internal political antagonism to him, Powell has maintained that this kind of rhetoric merely points out the growing isolation of the island nation.

"I hope the whole world will now see this regime for what it is -- a regime that is one of the last of its kind on the face of the Earth," Powell said.

In addition, Grenell said Tuesday, the United States was troubled last week when Cuba was reelected as a member of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

"We walked out and did not participate," Grenell said. "We could not in good conscience vote for a violator of human rights to be the arbiter of human rights."

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