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Cuban Government Threats Due To Holiday Lights

Cuban Government Threats Due To Holiday Lights And Decorations

Statement by James Cason, Chief of Mission, U.S. Interests Section, About Cuban Government Threats due to Holiday Lights and Decorations

Havana, Cuba December 14, 2004

Cuba is one of the most egregious and consistent violators of human rights in the world.

The United Nations has determined on repeated occasions that human rights abuses in Cuba are an issue of international concern.

The Castro regime maintains that any mention of its flagrant violations of human rights amounts to interference in its internal affairs.

In Cuba, as anywhere in the world, when the United States insists that nations live up to their human rights obligations, that is not interference in internal affairs. We insist that Cuba respect its international commitments, such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights, to which Cuba is a party. The Cuban people have fundamental freedoms, which are being violated on a daily basis by the Castro regime.

Let's look at what is annoying the regime now. Over the past week, the U.S. Interests Section held a Christmas party for the children of political prisoners and a solemn ceremony during which democracy activists deposited messages to be presented on the eve of Cuba's next democratic elections. So threatened was the regime by the children's party that it deployed State Security personnel outside my house to intimidate kids invited to attend.

As part of our holiday celebrations, we also displayed a "75" symbol as a reminder of those arrested for thinking and speaking independently.

The Castro regime is now threatening this diplomatic mission with retaliation. It is doing so because of our unswerving support for Cuba's struggling, valiant civil society, and the peaceful, democratic opposition.

Some insist that dialogue with the dictator is essential. Such "dialogue" can only be on the dictator's terms. He will not tolerate any reminders of this country's brutal human rights abuses. Those who think that dialogue with Castro will produce meaningful human rights improvements need only look at Castro's cynical trading in political prisoners during the past 45 years.

Any action taken against this mission or its personnel will not affect the U.S. Government's determination to defend universally held democratic values and fundamental human rights in Cuba and around the world.

Questions and Answers Following COM James Cason's Declaration About Cuban Government Threats to the U.S. Interests Section Due to Holiday Lights and Decorations

Q: What are the Cubans threatening to do? What are they threatening with retaliation?

JC: They haven't told us what the retaliation will be; they just said there will be consequences if we refuse to take down our Christmas decorations.

Q: (Inaudible). JC: We had a meeting with them on Saturday and today.

Q: What do they mean by Christmas decorations? Are they insisting the "75" be removed from your display? JC: The Cubans were not specific.

Q: Did the Cuban government insist that you remove only Christmas decorations? JC: They said the objects outside your Interests Sections within our grounds, within U.S. sovereign territory.

Q: Who was the meeting with and where was it held? JC: The meeting was held at the Ministry of External Relations; the Director of North American Affairs was present.

Q: Have you ever had any problems with holiday decorations in the past? JC: We have not had a problem with decorations in the past. I assume that the Cuban government had a problem. They do not want Christmas lights, nor decorations and the like. You have to ask the Cuban government if they have a problem.

Q: Then can we assume that this is the 75 JC: I would assume that they were talking about the sign referring to the 75 dissidents. One of the reasons I want to talk about the 75 dissidents is that since this is a holiday season, a time when family values are important, when family reunifications are important, and a time for reconciliation and tolerance. In a holiday spirit we wanted to draw attention once again to the fact that there are large numbers of political prisoners. Our holiday decorations commemorating the "75" dissidents are symbols of the political prisoners, but there are more than 300 political prisoners and at the time of Christmas there are people who cannot enjoy Christmas and will not be with their families as they should, because they were arrested unjustly, tried arbitrarily, and are now considered by Amnesty International, the United Nations, and others as prisoners of conscience.

Q: Was your decoration supposed to be provocative or used solely to bring attention? JC: What is provocative is the regime's arrest of 75 people for thinking and acting independently. So it's up to the Cuban government to state what they consider provocative. Virtually anything they consider provocative would not be considered provocative in any other country. Our intent was to call attention, through symbols and images, to the plight of the dissidents whom the Cuban government refuses to release, including those who were released and were told: "Behave yourself or when you get well we're going to put you back in jail" In the spirit of Christmas, our intent was to call attention to the plight of these 75 dissidents.

Q: Has the United States ever placed a political Christmas decoration in the Interests Section and do any of your other embassies around the world have decorations commemorating political prisoners? JC: I think anywhere else around the world it would be considered normal to display Christmas decorations and for a diplomats to make their point of view known to the press, through press conferences, and through dialogue with the government. But Cuban officials have refused to talk to us since the day I arrived.

Q: But, have you ever had political prisoners decorations here before? JC: This is the first time that we decided we wanted to call attention to the 75 dissidents.

Q: Suppose the Cuban government ordered you to take the decorations down? What would be your position? JC: Our position is that our Christmas decorations will stay as they are through Christmas.

Q: All of them? JC: All of our Christmas decorations. It's a matter of principle to us.

Q: So will they be displayed through Christmas? JC: They will stay up through the Christmas holiday, just like last year.

Q: When do they need to be taken down? JC: We haven't decided. At Christmas time, people usually come from all over Havana and to look at our lights and we don't remove them until Christmas is over.

Q: Are you surprised, Mr. Cason, that the government objected to the decoration commemorating the 75 political prisoners? JC: No. They have done everything they can to hide the fact that they have 75 dissidents in prison. Very few Cubans know about this. And the Cubans have done everything possible to make sure that those people can't speak their mind. They were arrested for trying to speak out. The question is they tried to speak out and were not heard from again, and in our Mission we decided that we wanted to call attention to the fact that they're in prison during Christmas time.

Q: Did you considered putting 51? Given that there are 14 of them... JC: We considered putting 330. The point is that Fidel, over the decades, has consistently arrested people, used them as hostages, and released them when enough pressure is put on the government. So it could be 61 today, but they are continually arresting people. It could be 65 tomorrow. So, the number is not important. I think what matters is what the number symbolizes, and what is unknown to most Cubans in this country.

Q: Is there another reason that releases are not JC: We are very happy that some people have been released. In fact, we want the 75 dissidents and all political prisoners released. I think the international community wants the same, that's the bottom line demand. But more than that, we want to see fundamental political changes that allow people to exercise their rights as provided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rights that their own Constitution says they are supposed to have and more fundamentally, political change allowing people who want to participate in the future Cuba to do so, to speak out, to be able to talk among themselves without being arrested, without being bugged, and without being harassed and intimidated. Q: Mr. Cason: Imagine this meeting on Saturday. And they mentioned this further offensive took place at the Christmas party, the Easter party, the "Suite Havana " (inaudible)? JC: The only things the Cuban government mentioned are the objects outside our Interests Section. But we know that they were upset about other things and they brought officials to intimidate children coming to our events. Their actions at a simple Christmas party are an example of how they deal with people.

Q: (inaudible) JC: We do not know. The Cubans could expel us, or continue to try to hinder our activities that they have done constantly since we have been here. They have a whole range of options that they could take. It's up to them. I mean we do not know what they're going to do.

Q: Mr. Cason, did you get an impression that these threats are more serious than previous threats that you received from the Cubans since you arrived here? JC: We don't know. I mean, they could expel us, they could continue to try to hinder our activities, which they've done constantly since we've been here. They have a whole range of options that they could decide to take. It's up to them. I mean we don't know what they are going to do.

Q: Mr. Cason: Did you get the impression that these threats are more serious than previous threats that you have had from the Cubans since you arrived here? JC: I think that what they're saying is that there will be consequences.

Q: And by that you mean ? JC: Well, time will tell.

Q: When was the last time a U.S. diplomat was thrown out of Cuba? JC: I don't know. Certainly not since I've been here. I don't think for quite some time. Normally what they've done is reply in a different way which is restrict our ability to provide information, to travel, to try to intimidate people who come to our residences or come to an event, not to "stars" but to anybody here, any European diplomat as well. So, as I say, we don't know what they plan to do. It's up to them. We'll find out shortly.

Q: Do you have any time frame for when they may make it known? JC: No idea. I really don't.

Q: Why the decision to just put a sign there saying 75 when, in your own words, you people know that there were 75 dissidents arrested and lets say 75 political prisoners, you want to make a point so, just 75, so people will ask if they don't know what that means? JC: But I think that is exactly the point. People will say, "What does 75 mean? " And they'll begin to ask each other what does it mean.

Q: Why is it a there are no religious symbols this year? JC: Separation of church and state. I mean we didn't have any here last year either. Those were at my residence.

Q: Were you surprised with all these recent news that (inaudible). JC: Not at all.

Q: Is that not a surprise? JC: Not at all. That's no surprise to anybody here. Q: Using your own house? JC: I assume that the Cuban government wants to know what everybody is doing and will go to any extreme to find out what people are doing and try to impede it, if it has everything to do with the area of human rights. So, that doesn't surprise me at all.

Q: Why not work this out with Cubans and why go ahead with this right now? Is this a way to try to just stop them from (inaudible)? JC: No. We're prepared to pay whatever price for the things we believe in. So whatever comes, we'll accept. And so I think we're just giving you a heads up as press that something's up and that I think Cubans will do what they want to do, based on their own internal determinations.

Q: Cubans, in case of a dialogue, (inaudible). JC: I mean our position is that you know you have 46 years of this regime in which there's been dialogue for 46 years by a number of countries and you would be hard pressed to find what good has come out of it in terms of human rights, now, we're hoping, like the Europeans, that something will be accomplished, but I think we're just saying we're very, very skeptical because to us it appears that this government is not about to change any of their fundamental policies in terms of human rights, in basic rights of their own Cuban Constitution that they say they have, so, we wish them good luck but we're skeptical. And again, we're very happy that some of them have been released; we want them all to be released. That's again the reason for the 75, but it's really up to the government. A couple of more questions?

Q: When you said, "we'll find out shortly" you think before Christmas the retaliation will come? JC: I really don't know. We're just waiting so no idea.

Q: Just on the timing, would you say that there might be retaliation shortly before Christmas? JC: I really don't know. We're just waiting. No idea.

Q: Who were your interlocutors at the Ministry of External Relations? JC: Gustavo Machin and his assistant, Sra. Josefina Vidal, I don't remember.

Q: And it was a concrete threat? JC: Well, they rejected the word "threat," but it was clearly a threat. They insisted that we remove the objects. But I told them it was our property.

Q: You say here that dialogue hasn't yielded a solution, but evidently in 45 years the embargo hasn't either. What would be your solution? JC: Our position is that we think the people inside Cuba should have the right to participate in their own future, to determine what is going to be the direction. Up to now they haven't been able to, so that is why our focus is specifically on the people in Cuba who think differently, who are peaceful, who have ideas and want to participate in the so-called "battle of ideas" but cannot. Each time they open their mouths they are threatened, harassed or imprisoned. So our opinion is that they should at least have the possibility among themselves of discussing, associating among themselves, to determine what they will do. They, according to us, are the people who will determine Cuba's future. They should at least have the permission of the government to speak and dialogue among themselves.

Thank you.

[End]

Released on December 15, 2004

ENDS

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