Take down holiday decorations,
By Vanessa Arrington
A sign among holiday decorations outside
the U.S. Interest Section in Havana referring to imprisoned dissidents
has irritated the Cuban government, which wants the decorations removed.
HAVANA - The Cuban government has warned the U.S. diplomatic mission in
Havana to immediately take down Christmas decorations outside its
offices or face unspecified consequences, the top American diplomat on
the island said Tuesday.
The trimmings of Santa Claus, candy canes and white lights wrapped in
palm trees on the mission's seaside lawn apparently aren't the problem.
What was likely irking the Cuban authorities, U.S. Interest Section
Chief James Cason said, is a lighted sign about three feet in diameter
among the decorations that reads ''75'' -- a reference to 75 Cuban
dissidents jailed last year.
The sign was among the decorations closest to the street, which is on
Havana's coastal Malecon highway.
''Our intent, in the spirit of Christmas, was to call attention to the
plight of these 75,'' Cason told reporters. ``We're prepared to pay
whatever price for the things we believe in.''
Cuban Foreign Ministry officials insisted in meetings Saturday and
Tuesday that the decorations be taken down, Cason said. The U.S.
Interest Section refused, and was told it would face unspecified
''They could expel us; they could continue to hinder our activities,''
Cason said. ``We don't know what they're going to do.''
The United States and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since
shortly after Fidel Castro became president of Cuba.
In lieu of embassies, interest sections provide consular services and
limited official contact.
Cason said the Cuban government was annoyed by an event at the mission
for relatives of political prisoners and a Christmas party held for
December 15, 2004