U.S. Official: Castro "Playing With
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
NEW YORK - The U.S. administration's point man on Latin America
accused Fidel Castro on Tuesday of promoting "provocative" policies to
destabilize democratic governments and warned the Cuban leader he was
"playing with fire."
Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere
affairs, also singled out Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, calling on
him to observe the rule of law in the run-up to a possible referendum on
Speaking at a news conference following a speech at the Council of the
Americas, Noriega accused Castro, whom he called "a broken-down, old
dictator who doesn't cast much of a shadow," of sowing unrest in some
countries in the region. He did not identify the countries.
"It should be very clear to Fidel Castro that his actions have caught
the attention of Latin America leaders and that his actions to
destabilize Latin America are increasingly provocative to the
inter-American community," Noriega said.
"Those that continue in destabilizing democratically elected
governments, interfering in the internal affairs of other governments,
are playing with fire," he said.
Bush administration officials have expressed growing concern about ties
between Castro and Chavez, who is a close friend of Castro and a vocal
critic of U.S. policies. Chavez opponents are hoping to stage a
referendum, possibly this summer, that would recall the leftist leader
and lawmakers who support him.
U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Cuba and Venezuela are
working together to oppose pro-American, democratic governments in the
region with money, political indoctrination and training, such as in
Ecuador and Uruguay. Venezuelan resources may have helped in the October
ouster of Bolivia's elected, pro-American president, Gonzalo Sanchez de
Lozada, according to the officials, who declined to be named.
Venezuelan officials accuse the U.S. government of using slander and
defamation to weaken their country. Venezuelan Vice President Jose
Vicente Rangel demanded the United States provide proof that Venezuela
helped finance the ouster of Sanchez de Lozada.
"If they have any evidence ... they should put it on the table so we can
discuss it," Rangel told reporters in Caracas Tuesday. "What proof do
they have of these statements?"
Noriega also expressed concern with some of Argentina's recent foreign
policy decisions. He said the failure of Argentine Foreign Minister
Rafael Bielsa to meet with Cuban dissidents when Bielsa visited Havana
was "particularly disappointing."
Bielsa said he made no visit because his ministry had not received "a
single concrete request" for such an encounter. However, the wives of
several imprisoned dissidents said they requested meetings several
Noriega also urged Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner to stick to a
$21 billion debt refinancing plan backed by the International Monetary
Fund. Buenos Aires's financial standing has been battered by an economic
implosion in December 2001 and massive $103 billion public debt default
- the largest default ever by a country.
Noriega's comments came just days before a special summit meeting of
Latin American leaders in Monterrey, Mexico, scheduled to begin Monday.
Leaders from 34 Western Hemisphere countries, including the United
States, Mexico Brazil and others, are expected to discuss promoting
democracy, and reducing poverty among other topics, according to summit
Noriega said that the United States wants Latin American leaders to
agree on deadlines for protecting property rights, fighting corruption
and creating jobs.
He also said leaders should simplify regulations on remittances - money
sent from immigrants and workers in the United States to their home
countries - which he said should total some $30 billion this year.
Source: The Miami Herald.