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Bush Administration Trying to Create Dissent, says Top Cuban Official - 2003-05-18

A top Cuban official claims the Bush administration is trying to create dissent by paying U.S. agents in the communist island nation.

The charge by Cuban legislature president Ricardo Alarcon follows last week's expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats from New York and Washington. The Bush administration claims the diplomats were spying.

In an appearance on ABC's This Week television program, Mr. Alarcon denied the expelled diplomats were spying. He said Cuba refuses to take similar action with U.S. diplomats at the U.S. interest section in Havana.

"No, because that would be a repeat to play their game," said Mr. Alarcon. "I think that the interest section was one of the very few constructive steps that were taken in the '70s."

Relations between the United States and Cuba soured in the spring, after a crackdown on dissidents in Cuba. The communist government executed three Cubans who tried to hijack a ferry boat to the United States, and accused U.S. diplomats in Havana of conspiring with dissidents to undermine the communist system.

"We simply arrested some individuals that are agents of the U.S. government, paid by you with millions of dollars of taxpayers' money," he said.

Mr. Alarcon called for the lifting of economic sanctions against Cuba as a way of easing tensions between the two nations.

"The key is in the U.S. hands. Put an end to the hostility and/or this subversive activities in Cuba," he said.

"He can use it domestically, politically saying the U.S. is beating him up, and the Cuban people need to rally around him," commented Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who said he believes dictator Fidel Castro wants to keep the U.S. sanctions in place, despite what Cuban officials say publicly.

Former Republican U.S. Congressman Newt Gingrich said lifting the economic embargo, imposed in the 1960s, would open the Cuban economy and expose its society to democracy. But he said dictatorships are not toppled by a strong economy.

"I think, if anything, we should be more aggressive, not militarily, but more aggressive and more overt in saying our commitment is to give a free people free elections, and to do everything to rally the world," said Mr. Gingrich who made his comments on the ABC television program This Week, as did Mr. Richardson.