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US Sides With Mexico, Peru in Diplomatic Dispute With Cuba - 2004-05-03

The United States Monday came down solidly on the side of Mexico and Peru in their diplomatic dispute with Cuba over the Fidel Castro government's human rights record. The comments came as the Bush administration was given proposals for increasing U.S. pressure on Cuba.

The Bush administration is hailing Mexico and Peru for being "willing to stand up for the truth" about Cuba's human rights record, and it says their decision to recall their ambassadors from Havana in the face of verbal attacks by the Cuban leader is "entirely appropriate."

Mexico and Peru incurred the wrath of Mr. Castro last month when they supported a U.S.-backed resolution critical of Cuba that was narrowly approved by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at its annual meeting in Geneva.

The Cuban leader verbally assaulted the two governments in a marathon May Day speech Saturday, in which he said they had voted in Geneva under U.S. pressure. Mexico and Peru recalled their ambassadors from Havana in response, and Mexico also expelled the Cuban ambassador in Mexico City.

At a meeting in Washington of the private Council of the Americas, Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected the notion of U.S. pressure, saying the two countries are free and independent, and had "made their own choice" to properly condemn Mr. Castro and his regime.

Later, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Peru and Mexico were attacked for pointing out the truth about human rights in Cuba. "Cuba has resorted to such actions before, retaliating against countries and organizations that dare to criticize the Castro regime. The decision to withdraw their ambassadors obviously rests with the Mexican and Peruvian governments, but given the nature of the Cuban statements, the Mexican and Peruvian government actions appear to be entirely appropriate," he said.

The comments came as a panel of experts headed by Secretary Powell conveyed to the White House a list of recommendations aimed at hastening a democratic transition in Cuba, and for providing U.S. aid to a post-dictatorship government.

President Bush announced the establishment of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba in a policy speech last October, and it was tasked to complete a report to Mr. Bush by May 1.

The recommendations were not made public, but they are understood to include calls for increased support for Cuban dissidents, and for countries to distance themselves politically from the Castro government.

One key issue before the panel was whether to recommend a reduction in the maximum amount, currently $1,200, that Cuban-Americans can remit each year to families and friends in Cuba.

Spokesman Boucher, declining to give details of the report, said President Bush would decide which recommendations will be implemented, and when.