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Cuban Official Blasts Washington

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque holds the UN vote on human rights' relation as he criticizes the results in front of reporters in Havana, Cuba Thursday, April 15, 2004.
AP
This story was written by CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum
Cuba's Foreign Minister declared "the streets in Cuba belong to the revolutionaries" as he fielded questions from the foreign press corps Monday morning.

Felipe Perez Roque, just back from addressing the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva, justified efforts to silence dissident voices saying they "are lending themselves to the U.S. campaign against Cuba."

"I have the impression that the U.S. has sick obsession with Cuba and is determined to present another resolution," the Foreign Minister said, as he accused the U.S. government of an "irrational use of the human rights issue against Cuba."

With the exception of 1989, the UNHRC has approved Washington-backed resolutions condemning the human rights situation on the island. Havana claims the U.S. accusations are an attempt to justify the more than four-decades old economic embargo against the island.

Last week State Department spokesman Adam Ereli urged Havana to release its political prisoners and reiterated the Bush Administration's support for Cubans seeking to replace the Castro regime with a democratic system.

Addressing the poor treatment of imprisoned dissidents and the harassment of the 14 released for health reasons, Ereli noted, "The United States and others in the international community will not remain silent before such repression."

Perez Roque, however, charged that the U.S. "has lost a notion of reality and doesn't see what is clear for everyone else." Cuba, he insisted, does not have the "massive, systematic and flagrant" violations of human rights appropriate for discussion under the Commission's Item 9.

Unlike previous years, the Foreign Minister told the press, this time around Washington has not found a single Latin American or European country to present the document on its behalf and will not be able to get away with presenting Cuba as "an object of regional concern." The last time the U.S. itself sponsored such a resolution was in 1989. Since then, a variety of former members of the eastern socialist bloc and conservative Latin American governments have sponsored the annual resolution on its behalf.

Holding up a copy of Washington's draft resolution, Perez Roque said it's short and weak. "The U.S. can no longer get the Human Rights Commission to condemn Cuba. It can only try to maintain the issue on the agenda."

The resolution distributed to journalists after the press conference lacks the condemning language of earlier years. The reason for such a watered down document according to Perez Roque, is Washington's "fear of losing the vote in the UNHRC".

As the United States launches its annual campaign against Cuba in Geneva, tolerance for opposition on the island has dropped radically.

On Saturday dissident Doctor Darci Ferrer was attacked by neighbors after placing large photos of imprisoned members of the opposition outside of his home. Ferrer, who heads an independent physicians group, incurred slight injuries in the incident.

Refusing to criticize the action, Perez Roque said it was an issue of Ferrer's having pushed his government-supporting neighbors too far. And he charged "the U.S. is trying to provoke incidents".

The confrontation was reminiscent of the "acts of repudiation" staged against those planning to leave the island in the 1980 Mariel boat lift that carried 170,000 Cubans to South Florida.

On Sunday, some 200 women, government loyalists, confronted more than dozen female relatives of imprisoned dissidents as they held their now habitual weekly protest in front of Santa Rita Catholic Church in the upscale Miramar neighborhood of Havana. It was the first time the so-called "Ladies in White" have faced opposition to their march demanding the release of their husbands, fathers or sons arrested two years ago in a government crackdown that swept 75 dissidents off to jail. Only fourteen have been release for health reasons.

Last Friday the "Ladies in White" demanded space in the State-run media, delivering a letter to the official government journalists' association. In 2004, a number of the women held a sit-in near President Fidel Castro's offices to demand medical treatment for one of the prisoners. Both their actions and the government's tolerance of them until now are unprecedented.

The Cuban Government has from the beginning described the 75 dissidents as "mercenaries on the U.S. payroll" and says the UNHRC should be looking a Washington's prisoner abuse in Iraq and Guantánamo, rather than at the situation on the island. Havana has long charged that the only place in Cuba where human rights violations occur are in the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay.

By Portia Siegelbaum