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Venezuela Recalls Panama Ambassador to Protest Pardon of Anti-Castro Cubans - 2004-08-28

Venezuela has recalled its ambassador to Panama to protest comments by the outgoing Panamanian president regarding her reasons for pardoning four men convicted in a plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. President Mireya Moscoso said she feared the men could be executed if they were extradited to Venezuela or Cuba by her successor.

The latest diplomatic crisis follows a presidential pardon for four Cubans convicted of plotting to kill President Fidel Castro during an inter-American summit in 2000.

President Moscoso said she released the four Cubans for humanitarian reasons, because she feared the new administration, headed by Martin Torrijos, son of the late General Omar Torrijos, a close friend of Mr. Castro, would extradite them to Venezuela or Cuba, where she said they could be executed.

Flavio Granados, Venezuela's ambassador to Panama said that he was ordered home because Mrs. Moscoso´s statement was a "serious and false accusation" against his country. He said there is no death penalty in Venezuela, even "for terrorists that have been pardoned."

Mr. Granados also said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would not participate in the swearing in ceremonies for President-elect Martin Torrijos, which are scheduled for September first.

Luis Posada Carriles who is considered the ring-leader of the anti-Castro group escaped from a Venezuelan jail, after being blamed for the destruction of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 passengers in 1976. He denied any involvement in that incident, but has admitted to having conspired to topple the Cuban regime since it took power in 1959.

Venezuela provides key petroleum shipments to Havana in exchange for teachers, doctors and academic scholarships for hundreds of students.

Following the presidential pardon, the Cuban government severed diplomatic relations with Panama, and unleashed a torrent of television and newspaper reports accusing President Moscoso and her government of protecting international terrorists and caving in to pressure from Cuban exiles in the United States.

Panama is the main source of goods and services for Cuba's tourism industry, with exports of more than $200 million per year.