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Cuban Authorities Retaliate Against US Christmas Display


Cuban authorities have erected a huge poster across from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that depicts U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq. The move follows a warning by Cuban authorities to U.S. diplomats to take down Christmas decorations on the building that included a reference to dissidents jailed by the communist state.

The billboard, erected overnight, reproduces news photographs published earlier this year of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The billboard also displays Nazi swastikas, with the lettering "made in America."

A U.S. diplomat at the interests section, who insisted on anonymity, says the issue of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners has been reported and discussed openly. However, the official told the Associated Press on Friday that Cuban authorities do not allow any dissent in Cuba. The official says dissenters in Cuba are jailed and not allowed visitors.

Cuban authorities were angered by a Christmas display erected on the grounds of the U.S. interests section several days ago that depicted the Christmas figure, Santa Clause and lights that spelled out the number seventy-five. Last year Cuban authorities sentenced 75 dissidents and Controversial Christmas decorations remain up at the U.S. Interest Section in Havanajournalists to long jail terms, sparking international condemnation. Over the past two weeks Cuban authorities released a handful of dissidents in what observers say is a move to get the European Union to ease sanctions imposed because of widespread human rights violations.

The head of the U.S. Interests Section, James Cason had ignored warnings by Cuban authorities to take down the decorations. The U.S. diplomat says about four thousand Cubans visit the interest section every month to read newspapers, watch cable televisions and browse the internet - activities prohibited by the communist state.

Over the past several days Cuban authorities conducted large scale military maneuvers in what they say is a warning to the U.S. not to invade the island. U.S. officials say there are no plans to invade Cuba and that they hope a democratic state will emerge once Cuban leader Fidel Castro passes from the scene.

Meanwhile, Mr. Castro has met with a private U.S. delegation representing U.S. agricultural businesses to formalize about $100 million worth of contracts of agricultural products being sold to Cuba. Despite the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, U.S. agribusinesses have sold about one billion dollars worth of products to Cuba under a congressionally enacted provision allowing "humanitarian" trade to the communist-run island.

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