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US Sees Irony in Cuban Protests at American Mission


The State Department says government-organized Cuban protests of signs promoting human rights at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana are ironic, given the Castro government's human rights record. U.S. officials say the signboard messages will continue.

The United States and Cuba are trading charges of hypocrisy amid a Cuban-government-organized protest march Tuesday past the U.S. diplomatic interests section in Havana.

Cuban President Fidel Castro called for the march in an address Sunday to protest an electric sign on the building's façade that has been displaying human rights messages since last week.

Mr. Castro, in the three-hour televised speech, said the United States had no moral authority on human rights given abuse scandals at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and elsewhere.

The Cuban leader, participated in Tuesday's march, also accused the U.S. government of protecting a Cuban exile said by Havana to have masterminded the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner.

At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the electric signboard messages, among other things quoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and U.S. civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, will continue as the U.S. mission deems appropriate.

He said U.S. officials do not see why Cuban authorities should take offense.

"I find it ironic that the Cuban government is organizing these protests against these messages that are being put up on the U.S. interests section in Havana, with quotes about freedom from Martin Luther King and other topics," he said. "I don't see why that should be a such a source of concern for the Cuban government. But nonetheless they have seen it fit to organize these large protests against, essentially, freedom. So I think it's more of the same from the Cuban government."

Signs on the U.S. mission became a point of contention in the difficult bilateral relationship in late 2004, when U.S. diplomats put up holiday decorations that alluded to the Cuban crackdown on dissidents the previous year.

Cuba responded last year by erecting signs outside the building with photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. This week, a new sign was erected depicting President Bush as a vampire.

Tuesday's Havana march also coincided with an evidence deadline in the case of the alleged airline bomber, Luis Posada Carriles, who is held at a U.S. detention center in Texas on immigration charges.

An immigration judge has barred his deportation to Cuba or Venezuela but U.S. officials say he still might be sent to a third country.

Cuba accuses the Bush administration of having a double standard on terrorism by protecting Posada, but officials here say his status is for the courts to decide.

The 77-year-old Cuban exile is alleged by the Castro government to have organized the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane near Barbados that killed 73 people, and other acts of terrorism.

He escaped from prison in Venezuela in 1985 and was arrested in Florida last year on charges of entering the United States illegally.

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